Interested Landowners Meeting Allows Wasatch County Residents To Learn About Conservation Easements

A crowd of around 20 people attended the interested landowners meeting Wednesday evening. The meeting provided landowners in Wasatch County information about how they can preserve their land as open space in perpetuity through funding sources including the $10 million open space bond county residents passed in 2018.

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At the meeting the Wasatch Open Lands Board shared their landowner packet. The packet is a short two-page questionnaire that helps the board and landowners decide if a property is a good candidate for conservation. Landowners interested in conserving their land or even having a conversation about it can find the packet online.

Justin Keys led the meeting, Keys is an attorney with Hogan Lee Hutchinson, he also serves as an at-large member of the Wasatch Open Lands Board. Keys recalled that the idea of a bundle of rights on a single piece of land was a foreign concept to him when he first learned about it in law school. He said his professor compared those rights to a bundle of sticks.

“One of them is possession and use,” Keys explained. “That’s the one we think of most the time, but there’s others too. There’s a lien right, there’s a mineral right that comes below, and there’s all these other bundles of sticks. What we’re talking about here is using funds, public funds, private funds, so that you can come forward and keep the entire bundle of sticks except for the development rights. We’ll just strip that development right off so that it doesn’t become the next Cobblestone or whatever it is, nothing against Cobblestone. So that it continues being what it is.”

Wade Garrett of the Utah Farm Bureau presented at the meeting. Garrett says the Farm Bureau advocates for the preservation of agriculture and the agricultural way of life.

“The Farm Bureau believe strongly in property rights,” Garrett continued. “I think that is one of our big beliefs, and the protection of those and where needed conservation easements and other easements to protect future agriculture. We definitely think it should be a property owner right to enter. That they make the decision, and then they have the right to manage the land going forward. To keep that in agricultural use.”

After hearing from Mr. Garrett, the executive directors of Utah Open Lands Wendy Fisher and the Summit Land Conservancy director Cheryl Fox addressed the crowd explaining what their certified land trusts do and how the process of obtaining a conservation easement works. Here’s Fisher.

“It’s really easy to understand how to exercise private property rights to develop your land,” Fisher said. “If you want to pass the land on to the next generation, you want to be able to do so in a manner that provides a legacy. That they can enjoy, that’s been passed down from generation to generation you really have to have some help and some tools to be able to exercise that private property right to preserve your land.”

While describing the process Fox also assured landowners that entering into a conservation easement is entirely voluntary.

“At any time If the landowner says, wow I don’t want to do this you don’t have to do it,” Fox explained. “We are not governmental entities. We can’t force anybody to do anything. You can walk away. Even up until you’re signing on the line at closing, you can walk away.”

Keys has an agricultural background. He said that most of the people he’s known who have lost their family property, have lost the land due to lack of planning.

“A lot of these guys were good with ropes, were good with tractors but were not good with paper, right? It’s just the way it went, so there wasn’t that foresight,” Keys continued. “I don’t know how many different times on roundups at ropings and brandings, being in the attorney in the room, I’ve had people come up to me. (They) say hey guess what we’re starting to think about that. Grandpa is getting pretty old; we don’t have anything in place. I say well Uncle Sam is going to love owning half this ranch, so you better start getting something in place. Well this is where it starts folks. It’s complicated, it is. With people like Cheryl and Wendy backing you and showing you just how you can prepare for that eventuality, you can actually put your ranch in a good place.”

You can learn more about the Wasatch Open Space Bond and the Open Lands Board here.