why conserve land?

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Why conserve farmland, woodlands and habitats, and build trails?

Woodlands are dynamic ecosystems which are fundamental to life.

When forests are disturbed by land conversion or fragmentation, the ecosystem can be severely damaged, affecting the balance between wildlife, plant life and the water supply. Saratoga PLAN helps landowners preserve and protect these important natural habitats.

  • 66% of the nation’s freshwater resources originate on forest land. Woodlands absorb rainfall and snow melt, helping to minimize floods, reduce soil erosion, and improve water filtration and recharge to aquifers.
  • Forests provide a natural habitat for animals that need or thrive under conditions found in the deep woods—60% of all at-risk species rely on forests.
  • One in three plant species in the United States is under threat of extinction. While endangered mammals and birds have commanded more public attention, scientists say it is plants (by converting sunlight into food and purifying air) that are more fundamental to nature’s functioning.
  • Land conversion decreases ecosystem function—significantly impairing watershed health and increasing the vulnerability to floods.
  • Instead of building a new water-filtration system which would cost $10 billion (with an annual $300 million operating costs), New York City decided to conserve more acreage around their reservoirs upstate—costing less than $200 million.
  • Conserved land in watersheds benefits the health and wallet of consumers—drinking two liters of city water daily costs $.50 a year—the same amount of bottled water runs up a $1,400 tab.

Local farms are essential for maintaining a local supply of fresh food.

Unfortunately, despite the important role of agriculture, farmland is usually more economically valuable when used for residential development than for farming. Saratoga County is the fastest growing county in NYS and New York State is losing farmland at an alarming rate. Saratoga PLAN helps landowners preserve their land for agricultural use, ensuring that local farms can be passed on to the next generation of farmers and linking them with their hard-working forbearers.

  • New York State is losing the equivalent of one farm every 3.5 days, threatening our food supply.
  • In the last 25 years, New York State has lost almost half a million acres of farmland to subdivisions, strip malls and scattered development.
  • Farmland is desirable for building because it tends to be flat, well drained and affordable. It’s usually more profitable for farmers to sell land to a developer than to another farmer. Land trust agreements make it economically viable to pass land on to the next generation of farmers.
  • Farms provide aquifer recharge areas and act as natural filters to surface and subsurface water—this helps to provide unfiltered healthy drinking water to more densely populated areas.
  • In an age of growing concern of how our food is produced, local farms are the best guarantee that our food supply is fresh, sustainable, and free of harmful processing.

Connecting people to nature and promoting good health are increasingly important in an age of sedentary lifestyles.

Trails are a great way for people to get exercise, reduce stress and enjoy nature. Americans love trails. However, trails are often taken for granted. Building and maintaining trails is hard work. Over the last 10 years Saratoga PLAN has helped develop over 200 miles of recreational trails throughout the county.

  • Multi-use trails contribute greatly to a region’s quality of life. The National Association of Homebuilders lists trails as the number one amenity sought by prospective home buyers.
  • Numerous studies demonstrate that proximity to a public trail elevates property values.
  • Bicycling is the 2nd most common form of outdoor recreation in the US—60 million Americans enjoy this activity.
  • Recreational and nature trails can help reduce stress and promote mental health.
  • Convenient outdoor recreational opportunities like trails help people keep fit and reduce obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma, heart disease, and other health problems. On average, an obese American racks up nearly $1,500 more per year in health care costs than an American of normal weight.
  • Designing and constructing infrastructure for pedestrians and bicyclists generates significantly more jobs per mile than building roads (from a recent national study involving 11 cities.) For each $1 million spent on multi-use trail infrastructure, an average of 9.6 jobs are created.

Land Conservation – how does it work?

Land can be conserved in two basic ways: it can be restricted or it can be transferred. The land must possess conservation values such as fertile agricultural soils, wildlife habitats, or water resources whose protection has a demonstrable public benefit. Conservation projects are customized to meet the needs and complexities of each unique parcel of land and every individual landowner’s interests and circumstances.

If land is conserved through restrictions, landowners and their successors continue to own and manage their land. They conserve it by limiting its development or restricting its uses in order to protect the land’s conservation values for the future. Land can be conserved for agriculture, forestry, wildlife habitat, water resource protection, and/or scenic views. A nonprofit land trust such as Saratoga PLAN or a government entity will ensure that the restrictions are upheld over time, no matter who owns the land in the future, according to a legally binding agreement called a conservation easement that describes the restrictions that the landowners place on their property.

If transferred, the landowners convey title to the property to a nonprofit land trust or government entity, either during their lifetimes, as a life estate, or as a bequest in their wills. Transfers are often referred to as fee acquisitions. In the case of a transfer, the receiving organization will actually own the property once it is transferred.

Sometimes real estate is given as a tradeland. In this case, typically a house on a lot, commercial property, or vacant land without significant conservation value, the tradeland is used as a financial asset for the organization to sell and use the proceeds to conserve other land.

Both conservation easements and title transfers can be donated, sold, or a combination of the two (bargain sale). There are numerous tax considerations for donations, sales, and bargain sales. The funds used to purchase properties are limited and are attained through competitive grants and fundraising. Whether restricted or transferred, land conservation decisions are permanent and cannot be undone. This one-time investment in conserving the land leaves a lasting legacy that keeps on giving, year after year, for generations to come.

For more information about conserving land, check out the fact sheets Questions and Answers for Property Owners Considering Land Conservation in Saratoga County, NY and Using Conservation Easements to Conserve Agricultural Lands. A staff person at Saratoga PLAN is available to discuss land conservation options that may be applicable to the landowners’ situations. For a free, confidential consultation, call Saratoga PLAN at 588-5554.