TWIN FALLS, Idaho — As a fifth-generation rancher in Oregon’s Jordan Valley, Bob Skinner was adamantly opposed to conservation easements.
But the former president of the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association and a long-time director for the Public Lands Council had a change of philosophy when he was invited to find out more about how conservation easements can protect working landscapes.
His awakening came more than a decade ago and led him to become a founding member of the Northwest Rangeland Trust, of which he now serves as vice chairman.
As a rancher, Skinner can understand a rancher’s resistance to transferring any rights on his private property and skepticism toward “so-called” conservationists.
“If you have reservations, I totally understand. I was there once,” he told ranchers at the Idaho Range Livestock Symposium on April 20.
“Talk about ‘conservation’ makes you wince a bit when so-called conservationists take us to court every day,” he said.
When you fight those folks over your property rights, the word just doesn’t have a good ring, he said.
But conservation easements can be a valuable tool to protect the future of a ranching operation, and it can help ranchers get out of a financial jam and save the land for agriculture, he said.
Urban encroachment is a big issue in some areas, and everybody knows ranching families that have had to sell the ranch to pay estate taxes, he said.
Putting a conservation easement on the property can help in both situations, putting ranchers in a better position without really changing what they’re already doing, he said.
“It has helped a lot of people out,” he said.
It protects the property from development while preserving the ranching operation and retaining the property owner’s rights to use the land for such activities as grazing, farming and family residences.
“We are all about working landscapes. We want to keep working landscapes working,” he said.
The property owner can write the easement any way he wants. And if something isn’t working, he can come back and change things if all parties involved agree, he said.
Even after hearing about what an easement can provide, some people still might not want to do it or they might not need to. But it’s there if they do need it, he said.
“These conservation easements aren’t for everybody,” he said.
Skinner doesn’t have an easement on his property because his ranch isn’t in an area that’s threatened by encroachment and, other than the sage grouse, he doesn’t have any conservation issues. But many ranchers do face such issues or could use an easement in estate planning, he said.
Conservation easements can keep people on the ground and keep land in production, he said.
And whether or not it’s a good fit for individual operations, there’s no denying the money and desire exists to conserve land. So it behooves the cattle industry to care about who is holding those easements, he said.