Land trust combined with NRCS to keep land in agriculture
By MATTHEW WEAVER
COLVILLE, Wash. -- John Dawson doesn't know many neighbors who haven't supplemented their ranches with income from timber or by selling some of their land.
But when they do that, they threaten to diminish the value of the ranch for grazing and wildlife, he said.
"If we don't keep intact production, the wildlife will suffer and so will our food source some day," he said.
Dawson and his wife, Melva, recently made a move to preserve their Colville, Wash., cattle ranch under the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service Farm and Ranch Protection Program.
The nonprofit Inland Northwest Land Trust of Spokane filed the application in partnership with the Dawsons and Conservation Northwest, a conservation group.
The Dawsons will sell the development rights and keep the land intact, said Dawson, 67, who has owned the ranch since 1976.
"We want to maintain it as a ranch for future generations," he said. "We don't want to see these ranches broken up into small parcels and lose the open space we need desperately to keep in production."
The Dawsons run 300 cattle on the 504-acre ranch.
NRCS West Area program liaison Monica Hoover said the program offers ranchers and farmers the opportunity to receive much of the income they would get from selling their land outright, yet continue to farm.
Under the program, the person who holds the deed sells the development rights and retains the agricultural rights. The farmer continues to pay taxes on the land.
Hoover believes many farmers would be interested in receiving the development value of their farms, and yet be able to keep farming.
To be eligible under the program, privately owned farm or ranch land must include at least 50 percent prime, unique or important soils; historical or archaeological resources; or land that furthers state or local conservation policies, Hoover said. It must also have an offer pending for a conservation easement from an eligible organization.
The organization pays up to 50 percent of the fair market value for the easement to match the 50 percent provided by USDA, as well as the costs of acquiring the easement, including surveys, appraisal, title insurance, legal fees and closing costs.
Conservation Northwest worked as a mediator and helped to raise funds because the program does not pay for the entire development cost, Jay Kehne, Conservation Northwest's Okanagan County outreach associate, said. The organization also looks for funding from other sources, such as other government programs and donors.
Whether they use state, federal or private funds, such easement requires legislative and local support, Kehne said.
"People feel some of these easements aren't necessarily good for a county because they're taking away development rights," he said. "But we feel the landowner's happy (and) wildlife advocates are happy."
The next step is getting an appraisal, Dawson said. The land trust will hold the conservation easement.
Dawson believes the program could help other ranchers remain in business.
"We all benefit for future generations to keep these ranches in one piece," he said. "Hopefully, my heirs can take it over and run it as a ranch when I am no longer able to."
Conservation Northwest: www.conservationnw.org