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Protecting the Future, by Margaret Marean and Lili Pugh
As we all well know, mid-coast Maine is wonderful place to live. But the word is getting out and the increase in development has many of us concerned about the future of our special places; those woods, lakes and ocean vistas that are such an important part of our lives. Local conservation and land trust organizations are working to preserve open space and to spread the word to local landowners that there are many ways to protect their land for the future. Many landowners are responding and the use of one technique, the conservation easement, is growing.
A conservation easement is a practical way for landowners to preserve the natural beauty of their land while retaining ownership. It is a legal document that becomes part of the property's title. Easements are individually tailored to the needs and wants of the landowner and the conservation organization. Some common options are to restrict the number of additional residences, to protect waterfront areas from any development or to restrict activities that the landowner feels might destroy the scenic or ecological value of the land. In return for the easement, the conservation group agrees to inspect the property periodically and enforce the restrictions in the easement. And they agree to do this forever.
While all conservation easements preserve land and habitat for future generations, the motives driving the generous landowners that give them, such as those of the following donors of easements to the Sheepscot Valley Conservation Association, are interestingly varied.
Louis and Honor Sage own 33 acres along the Sheepscot River in Alna. Their concern for the endangered Atlantic salmon population in the river was the impetus for their easement donation. Louis is a biologist who has a passion for protecting the rivers and the natural habitat found there. His wife, Honor, was also interested in preserving the land and protecting it from further development. Sandy did some research on the part of the river his property borders, and discovered it contained conditions ideal for salmon spawning. He realized that if these riverfronts are not protected salmon as well as other flora and fauna will not survive. As a result of their concerns, their easement prohibits additional residences and provides strong protection of the riverfront.
Mary and Joseph Fiore gave 158 acres of land in Jefferson to the Damariscotta Lake Watershed Association who then gave an easement on the land to the SVCA. Mary wrote that they felt "fortunate to be connected with local organizations in Maine that work on issues of land and water conservation; issues which we are passionate about. We appreciate that these organizations will carry on long after we are gone. We are happy knowing that the rivers and streams, woods and fields will be protected as well as the creatures that live there." This easement requires that the land be kept in its natural state.
Lucy Harrington donated an easement on her 150 acres along the Marsh River, a major tributary of the Sheepscot River. Her parents bought the island in 1968 when they were looking for a fishing camp. Lucy fell in love with it and visited often. Lucy's father and brother wanted to develop the island but Lucy and her mother wanted to prevent any changes. Happily, Lucy and her mother prevailed. Lucy began to contemplate her mortality. "I didn't know anything about easements when I started but I knew I wanted some way to protect the property and keep in undeveloped into the future. I learned about easements from SVCA and was encouraged by a friend who worked for Maine Coast Heritage Trust. I trust SVCA because they seem to share my passion for protecting the land. Easements do not make you give up any ownership. For me, it just eliminates the possibility of anyone developing the property in the future. I encourage everyone who has a passion for protecting his or her property to obtain an easement. It is not difficult."
Brett and Priscilla Donham were already familiar with the concept of easements when they bought their property in Alna. They had several reasons for putting an easement on their land. "We loved the quality of the open space on our property and wanted to affirm that and make a commitment to have it stay that way." They learned about the SVCA and how land conservation offered a possibility of bringing back salmon. They also learned about potential tax benefits. Donating an easement on a property may be a gift that can be deducted from federal income taxes. "It is truly a win, win situation."
If you are looking for more information or are interested in donating an easement on your property, contact your local land trust or conservation organization. The SVCA can be reached at 586-5616 or e-mail to email@example.com.