WHY CONSERVE WORKING LANDS?
Not so long ago, our nation’s profound connections to the land were obvious. These ties may be less apparent now, but they are no less real. Vital needs such as fresh food and clean water still depend on the land. And that is only the beginning.
Land conservation keeps our rural heritage alive, fosters healthy communities, generates good jobs, supports sustainable agriculture, preserves diverse wildlife habitats, and maintains the wild landscapes of the West.
Our Future Depends on the Land
More than 80% of Colorado’s private lands are owned by farming and ranching families who are committed to stewardship and conservation. Carrying on this legacy so the land continues to thrive for future generations is the essence of conservation.
Colorado’s population is expected to grow by more than two million people over the next 20 years, putting millions of acres at risk of development. Stewardship of our agricultural lands has never been more important. CCALT is the only land trust in Colorado dedicated exclusively to conserving these working lands.
3 ACRES PER MINUTE
According to the American Farmland Trust, we lose 175 acres of farmland every hour in the United States—that’s 3 acres per minute.
ACRES CONSERVED IN PERPETUITY
IN THE NATION IN TOTAL ACRES CONSERVED BY A STATEWIDE OR REGIONAL LAND TRUST
FAMILIES PARTNERED WITH CCALT
INTRO TO CONSERVATION EASEMENTS
Conservation easements are voluntary agreements between a landowner and a qualified organization, like CCALT, to restrict development of a property. They are permanent and run with the land despite any changes in ownership. No two conservation easements are alike. Each is tailored to a specific piece of land and the conservation goals of its owner.
In general, conservation easements limit development to protect certain resources in perpetuity, such as open space, wildlife habitat, agricultural use, scenic vistas, historic landmarks and more. Conservation easements facilitate traditional activities such as farming, grazing, hunting, fishing, and recreation on the land. CCALT focuses on agricultural easements, which are designed specifically to preserve the land for farming or ranching.
Contact CCALT and Request Information
CCALT does not solicit conservation projects. Landowners must first contact CCALT about their interest in an easement and request an information packet.
Landowner Information Packet
The landowner information packet includes detailed information about CCALT, the uses and benefits of agricultural conservation easements, tax and financial topics, and many additional resources. After reviewing the packet, landowners interested in an easement must contact CCALT. Conservation staff are happy to answer questions and learn more about the potential project. Staff will provide you with a Landowner Project Questionnaire to help gather information about the project.
Landowner Project Questionnaire
The Landowner Project Questionnaire should be submitted to CCALT for review. CCALT staff will work with the landowner to provide a general overview of estimated project costs and potential financial outcome. Typically, a donated conservation easement will cost between
$80,000 and $120,000 to complete.
After reviewing the Landowner Project Application, CCALT staff will determine if the project meets CCALT’s project selection criteria. If so, a project manager will schedule a time to visit the property for further evaluation.
Project Approval from the Board of Directors
The CCALT Board of Directors formally approves all projects. Once approved, CCALT staff will provide you with an engagement letter. This will include a financial pro-forma showing the estimated financial outcome of completing the conservation easement. The CCALT project manager and landowner will then begin the process of ordering the required due diligence reports and negotiating the terms of the conservation easement. NOTE: CCALT recommends that the landowner hire independent legal counsel to assist in negotiating and reviewing the conservation easements.
Multiple due diligence reports need to be completed prior to conveying a conservation easement. These include, but may not be limited to: title; a conservation easement appraisal; a mineral remoteness assessment; and a baseline inventory report. Other due diligence reports may be required to complete the transaction. CCALT will provide a list of qualified professionals who specialize in the development of the required reports, but it is the landowner’s responsibility to contact, hire and pay for their production. The next steps provide additional details on specific due diligence reports.
CCALT requires a title commitment be issued by a title company to determine ownership and evaluate all exceptions that may affect the title to the property. This is typically the first step in the due diligence process. A title policy in CCALT’s name will be obtained for the conservation easement interest at closing.
The value of the conservation easement must be determined by an independent qualified conservation easement appraisal. The value of the conservation easement establishes the value by which both state and federal tax benefits are determined. NOTE: Standard land appraisals do not qualify.
Mineral Remoteness Assessment
Federal law requires a mineral remoteness assessment be completed in all instances where the mineral estate has been partially severed and is owned separately from the surface estate. (This also includes any federally reserved minerals.) The mineral report must be completed by a certified geologist and must conclude that the likelihood of surface mining is “so remote as to be negligible”. NOTE: Oil and gas development is not considered to be surface mining, but must be assessed by CCALT staff to determine compatibility with the conservation values.
Federal law requires that a Baseline Inventory Report documenting the property’s current and historic natural resources be completed. This document is used to verify the conservation values to be protected and by CCALT to carry out our perpetual stewardship obligations.
Deed of Conservation Easement
CCALT, the landowner, and legal counsel for both parties will draft the deed of conservation easement. The initial draft will be based on CCALT’s template deed of conservation easement with specific modifications to describe the property specific conservation values and the needs of the landowner. Once the deed is drafted, all parties review the draft and provide comments and requested revisions. Negotiating the deed can be complex and time consuming. It is essential that CCALT and the landowner fully agree on all terms at the end of the negotiation process.
CCALT will prepare a summary of the terms of the conservation easement. The CCALT Board of Directors will then vote to approve accepting the proposed conservation easement.
Closing and Recording
Closing will be handled through a title company. The signed deed will be recorded in the county records by the title company, which will then issue a title policy on the conservation easement interest to CCALT.
Selling Your Tax Credits
Following closing and recording, the landowner will be in position to apply to the State for conservation easement tax credits. The State has 120 days (4 months) to review the application and issue credits once it receives a completed tax credit application and the application fee. Once received, the tax credits can be sold. Landowners interested in having CCALT help facilitate the sale of their tax credits should inquire with their project manager about this prior to closing. CCALT staff can also provide a list of names of reputable conservation easement tax credit brokers who specialize in this work.
To download a PDF of our process, including a flow chart, click here. The process described in this section is for donated conservation easements. Bargain sale purchase transactions, whereby a landowner sells a portion of the value of the easement to CCALT, follow a slightly different process, outlined here. Please contact CCALT (303.225.8677) with any additional questions you have related to the process for conveying a conservation easement.
A Personal Approach
Because the agricultural community differs significantly from the larger landowning community, CCALT takes a unique approach to stewardship.
- CCALT monitors each conservation easement annually and works diligently with landowners to resolve stewardship issues.
- The purpose of monitoring visits is to ensure that the terms of the easement are being met and to continue building a strong relationship with the landowner.
Ultimately, CCALT’s stewardship program has been successful because we share the goals and values of our partners in land conservation. For the past two decades, we have worked hard to be a faithful advisor to landowners and have been recognized for our character and achievements. But we are proudest to have earned the respect of the families that trust us with their heritage.
Dramatic changes sweeping across Colorado are putting our vital agricultural lands, wild open spaces and rugged natural beauty at risk. Preserving Colorado’s heritage starts with taking care of our land. Help us keep the Colorado way of life alive for future generations!