Conservation Easements: Locking Up LittleTown, Part 4

In my last post I explained how the Western Governors Association is being used to implement the Wildlife Corridors Initiative throughout the Western United States, and how this initiative looks very much like radical, extremist, environmental visions, such as the Wildlands Project and the Yellowstone to Yukon Initiative, that call for expunging human beings from over one-half of the American land mass.  I explained how this puts private lands in the West in danger of being targeted for habitat acquisition.

As promised, in this post I will discuss the use of conservation easements to lock up land for habitat acquisition.  This is a timely discussion because I have learned that local environmental groups currently have seven million dollars, probably from the Ford Foundation, to use for grizzly bear habitat acquisition.  That could include the outright purchase of land, but it will likely include the use of conservation easements, as those have had a prominent place in North Idaho for at least ten years.

This is my fourth and final installment of the Infiltration of LittleTown, USA series, but I will continue writing blog posts in the future on land-use policy with specifics relating to Idaho and the West.  Whenever possible, I will discuss particulars regarding Boundary County, Idaho, the county wherein I reside.

Welcome, Stranger

When The Nature Conservancy (TNC) first came to Boundary County, roughly ten years ago, or more, I confess I knew very little about them, and less than nothing about conservation easements.  People were generally enthusiastic about the idea of being able to sell either one’s land, or the development rights to one’s land, to a land trust in order to preserve it for future generations, plus get a tax break.  I wasn’t so sure.  Perhaps it’s my peasant nature that gives me a suspicious mind about these things, but I couldn’t help wondering who was getting their hands on all that land.  I knew that whoever owns land owns wealth, and whoever owns wealth has power.

At least it’s not falling into the hands of the federal government, I thought.  Little did I know that The Nature Conservancy is known for buying lands and the development rights to land, and then turning around and reselling those holdings to the federal government, often at exorbitant profits.  I don’t think many other individuals in Boundary County were aware of that fact either.

Evidently, The Nature Conservancy has a reputation for stealth in this regard.  Some Americans have sold their land to TNC at under-market prices thinking of it as a charity for land preservation, and some have even sued in court when they found out that the land was resold to the federal government.

According to Elizabeth Nickson, due to their reputation among rural folks, The Nature Conservancy “operates through a proliferation of ‘partner’ land trusts, conservancies, and operatives.”  Nickson goes even further in her indictment of The Nature Conservancy for stealth activities saying, “TNC’s sending polite, fresh-faced kids into the middle of nowhere to start local actions for waterbirds or watersheds or ancient forests was the trigger that started the landslide collapse in rural America.”

As important as it is for us to understand The Nature Conservancy’s record on these matters, I need to leave TNC until later, and move on to discuss what conservation easements are, what to watch for, and why they are a bad idea both for the environment and for human culture.

Laying it Out

A conservation easement is a contract between a landowner and another entity, such as a land trust or governmental agency, which imposes restrictions upon the landowner’s use of his or her property, usually in exchange for tax breaks.

Fred Kelly Grant, an attorney from Idaho, does the best job of laying out the immediate legal ramifications of signing a conservation easement.  In his article, “Standing Ground,” Grant uses the analogy of buying a used car on scalper’s terms–terms that no sane person would sign.  I invite you to read Grant’s article, as it is most insightful.  One major point he makes is that, if you sign a conservation easement, you will be selling the controlling interest in your property:

“The buyer, whether it be the Government or a non-profit organization, buys control over the use of the land.  From the time the contract is signed, the buyer holds the dominant estate in the land, and the landowner holds the servient [a condition of servitude] estate, which means that the landowner operates only to serve the interests of the dominant easement owner.  Every change in the use of the land must be approved by the dominant easement owner; even continuation of the use of the land in place when the contract is signed is subject to continued approval by the dominant owner.”

The literature is full of horror stories about what can happen to landowners bound by contract to the owner of a conservation easement.  One cautionary tale is that of Martha Boneta, an environmentally-sensitive woman, and an organic gardener, who bought a small farm in Paris, Virginia for the purpose of selling farm-produced products.

Tom DeWeese tells Martha’s story in his article, “Conservation Easements and the Urge to Rule:”

 “Everything was looking great for a lady anxious to get her hands in the dirt….Martha made her farm a haven for rescued animals.  She restored the heavily deteriorated barn and turned it into a small farm store to sell her products—items produced right there on the farm.

Oh yes, there was just one small detail brought up at the very last minute during the closing meeting for her mortgage loan as she was purchasing the property.  The Piedmont Environmental Council [PEC] slipped in a conservation easement on the property.  This specific easement did not pay any cash to Martha nor did it provide any tax credits. All the benefits went to PEC.  Martha signed the document because she had been told conservation easements were a way to protect the farm from being developed.  She was for that.”

DeWeese then goes on to explain how Martha was threatened with huge fines for violations when she posted pictures on Facebook of a private pumpkin-carving party for children held on her farm.  She was also charged for fencing a cemetery dating from 1882 to prevent animals from walking through it, and for a water nozzle she used to wash her animals.  She was subject to unannounced inspections of the farm living quarters, and even of her closets.  In addition she was forbidden to video tape the inspections.  This harassment cost her thousands more dollars to defend herself.

Many articles on conservation easements caution the landowner to have the contract examined by a lawyer with a background in this kind of easement, and that is good advice, however making sure of the terms of a potential contract is more complicated than it might seem.  In the first place, what one thinks one is signing may be a very different matter than what one actually signs.

Courts have ruled in favor of the conservation easement holder even when the language seemed to straightforwardly favor the original landowner (see Grant’s article).  Secondly, according to Kirk MacKenzie, who runs the web site Defend Rural America, conservation easement regulations are not always static: “they get worse over time.   A set aside along a creek that starts with a 50-feet regulation can grow to a 300-foot set aside, for example, and even engulf the land the home sits on ― without any further input or approval of the owner.”

Remaking American Property Law

Perhaps most importantly, one should be aware that landowners will not likely be approached with a contract that favors them.  This is no coincidence.  In 1972, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a science advisory organization to the United Nations, published an IUCN Environmental Law Paper entitled The Easement as a Conservation Technique.  It was written by David D. Gregory.  A close reading of this document reveals that, from the IUCN’s point-of-view conservation efforts in the United States were being stymied by American laws that favor private property rights.  In order to meet their goals, environmentalists or governments  would have had to purchase lands outright and pay taxes on them, and the cost of that would have been prohibitive.  So, the IUCN was looking for a way around American laws and the need to purchase land.  They settled on the conservation easement as a way of doing that.

Perhaps one of the most revealing passages in the document is this one that shows the system of Roman law the IUCN decided to use in order to impose their view of property rights on the United States:

“In view of the influence of Roman Law on the French, German and American legal systems (although with great variation in each case), it is not surprising to find that each system has one or more legal devices resembling the Roman praedial servitude. Praedial servitudes required both a dominant and a servient tenement (known as master and slave estates); in character they could be either negative, requiring the owner to refrain from doing something on his land, or positive, permitting the holder of the dominant tenement to use the burdened land, but affirmative duties could not, for the most part, be placed on the servient-tenement holder. 1 Similar limitations, as we shall note, will pose difficulties, although perhaps not insurmountable, to adapting the American easement, the French servitude, and the German Dienstbarkeit to conservation purposes.”

Remember that this document was written in 1972.  Since then, the “limitations” and “difficulties” spoken of have been largely overcome.  Legal precedents and legislation have been passed that favor these easements, and that allow conservation easement holders to impose their will on the original landowners, or as Gregory calls them, the servient tenements (again see Grant’s article).

I want you to notice something here: these people know exactly what they are doing.  Notice the terms master and slave estates.

Dr. Michael Coffman, speaking at a 2012 Northwest Liberty Summit in Clarkston, Washington, pointed out that these globalists are seeking to impose a Roman system of usufruct on the United States and the rest of the world.

Coffman, who has a PhD in ecosystems analysis and planetology, was talking, at the time, about the Biodiversity Treaty that came before the U.S. Senate in the mid-nineties, but which was rejected when Coffman brought evidence regarding the true goals and nature of the treaty.  When reviewing foundational documents for the Biodiversity Treaty, he had come across the term, usufruct.  Looking it up in his college dictionary, he found that the term was coined from the ancient Roman Empire and meant Caesar owns everything.  In other words, property rights under this system are not the inalienable rights of the individual citizen, as thought by the American Founders, but they belong to government.

According to the American Dictionary of the English Language: Noah Webster 1828, a facsimile edition, Usufructuary is defined as “a person who has the use and enjoyment of property for a time, without having the title or property.”  Under that system, Caesar, or in today’s terms, government, could grant rights of temporary enjoyment of lands to whomsoever he wished, but the tenement did not own free title to the land.  So much for the American Revolution.

It’s No Big Deal

Local spokespeople for The Nature Conservancy and the United States Forest Service maintain that the land trusts are “only purchasing the development rights to the property,” as if that was a very small thing not worth getting upset about.  One is tempted to acquiesce to their serene confidence that nothing is out of order here, until one becomes informed that the 1976 United Nations Conference on Human Settlements declared that

“Land…cannot be treated as an ordinary asset, controlled by individuals and subject to the pressures and inefficiencies of the market.  Private land ownership is also a principal instrument of accumulation and concentration of wealth and therefore contributes to social injustice.”

Carla Anderson Hills and William Reilly, who would become head of the EPA and chair of the President’s Council of Environmental Quality under Bill Clinton, signed the above declaration for the United States. They “recommended abolishing private ownership of land piecemeal by restricting that ownership to sharply limited life leases” (Nickson page 268).

Can anyone say Usufructuary?

Nickson then goes on to list Hills and Reilly’s other recommendations about land ownership:

1. “Redistribute population in accord with resources.
2. Government must control the use of land to achieve equitable distribution of resources.
3. Control land use through zoning and land-use planning.
4. Excessive profits from land use must be recaptured by government.
5. Public ownership of land should be used to institute urban and rural land reform.”
[And here is the kicker for the purposes of this article (bolding mine)]:
6. “Owner rights should be separated from development rights.”

This last is exactly what local proponents admit is the effect of conservation easements.  The problem is, we don’t become alarmed when we hear the statement because we don’t realize that we are selling our heritage for a pot of beans.

In reality, the conservation easement can work towards other private-property abolishment goals. By hampering the productivity of the land, and lowering the value of the property, the land often eventually ends up falling into the hands of land trusts and government for pennies on the dollar.

Beware of Phony Free-Market Arguments

Conservation easements are often touted as being a product of free-market, green capitalism.  At least two local leaders have made public statements that suggest to me they agree with this assumption.  In actuality, conservation easements are the product of supreme market manipulation.  Several facts support my contention.  The first obvious fact is that the United Nations Declaration cited above states outright that land should not be subject to the market.  The Nature conservancy is a member of the IUCN, a United Nations nongovernmental organization (ngo), and all UN ngo’s must support the UN’s goals. Another fact is that land trusts, such as the Nature Conservancy, act as agents to purchase lands and development rights for the federal government, and also participate in forming land-use regulations.

Tom DeWeese tells us that conservation groups

“may work directly with government agencies, helping to establish new regulations which alter best management practices, driving up compliance costs.  Eventually, these cost increases can force owners to sell their land at a reduced price. This is especially effective when trying to dislodge a land owner who has refused to sell his land to the government or sign a conservation easement….Its [The Nature Conservancy] favorite practice is to tell the land owner that the government intends to take the land, but if they sell to the Conservancy then it will guarantee that the land will stay in private hands.  But of course, since the government intends to take the land it is now worth much less.”

Dana Joel Gattuso’s article, “Conservation Easements: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,” tells us

“Many property rights advocates…argue the threat of land use regulations and Federal land-grabs can act as an incentive for conservation easements, driving landowners to sell or donate a conservation easement to avoid the burden of a threatened regulation.  Faced with the choice of government seizing your land or encumbering your land with a conservation easement, most landowners would, even if grudgingly, opt for the latter.”

They have ways to make you sign

The revolving door between the federal government and land trusts, such as The Nature Conservancy, gives them the opportunity to exert undue influence over regulatory policy.  This is now true at the state and local levels of government as well. If many farmers and land owners sign easements to get a tax-break and/or due to the rising cost of regulatory compliance, it behooves us to ask who sets tax policy, and who sets regulations?  If the government sets tax and regulatory policy with one hand, and with the other hand sends agents to purchase lands for them, can we then reasonably claim we have a free market?  If the land trust can use the carrot and the stick by saying the government is about to impose eminent domain on property, but that they will take it off the landowner’s hands at a price that has now plummeted, can any disinterested person call that the product of a free market?  The idea is absurd. It’s like a syndicate selling “protection.”

With Justice for Mother Earth and Everybody, But Mostly for Us and Our Friends

And neither does all of this protect the environment, as claimed.  The Nature Conservancy has developed much of this land itself, and resells many of these conservation easements to other conservation groups, as well as to the Federal Government.  In the past, they have worked out sweet deals with elite celebrities and other influential persons.  That’s the market they recognize–the crony-capitalism, controlled-market that has made them fabulously wealthy.  I’m talking World-Bank kind of wealthy.

Furthermore, they practice extractive industry, such as logging and oil drilling, on their holdings.  Of course, they beard the lion by saying that they practice “sustainable” extractive industry.  I guess only they are qualified to do thatYou and I are not that smart.

While we’re at it, federal land-management agencies are doing an abysmal job of managing our natural resources, to put it bluntly.  If you doubt my statements, I suggest you read some of the references I include at the end of my articles, particularly Elizabeth Nickson’s book.

But the crying shame of it all is that these people want us to believe they are doing all of this to bring about social equity and environmental justice.  This is because they purport to believe that private property is the cause of social inequity.  Well, they are diametrically opposed to the precepts of the American Founders, and what has been the underlying premise of American culture for nearly 400 years.  The Founders believed that the most equitable and just society is ensured by a large middle-class and a majority of individual citizens owning small properties.  They believed that the accumulation of property and wealth in the hands of government, not the citizenry, is dangerous and a threat to liberty and justice.

Internationally-connected environmentalists claim to be saving American farmlands from development by use of conservation easements.  In actuality, they are saving them for themselves and their cronies.  The idea is to create artificial scarcity in order to control the market for one thing.  As Dr. Ileana Johnson Paugh puts it, “at a time when food is expensive, we are using more crops for biofuels, and we have to import food from other nations …why would a landowner place good farmland under perpetual conservation easement?”  My question is, what do you think will happen to the price of food when the majority of farmland is locked up?  And who will be controlling that farmland?

The same questions can be asked concerning all other things Americans need.  Consider what Dr. Michael Coffman says regarding the general relevancy of land and natural resources to the national economy:

“Although the development of natural resources (agriculture, mining, oil, forestry and others) makes up only a small portion of the gross domestic product, nothing else in the economic structure can exist without them.  They are the foundation of our entire economy.  All the modern conveniences Americans take for granted, including computers and synthetic clothing, find their origin in the ground or on the ground.  There are no exceptions.  Everything we possess and use originally comes from natural resources.  Even stock market speculation ultimately depends on natural resources to create real value (pg. 60).”

What Do You Believe?

Remember what I said at the beginning of this article: whoever owns land owns wealth, and whoever owns wealth has power.  The use of conservation easements is part of a system that is being imposed on America in order to concentrate land, wealth and power into the hands of governments and select organizations.  If, in the near future, you are approached with an offer to sign a conservation easement, think very carefully about what you believe are the true principles of liberty and a just society.

I know what I would do.

 

Works Cited and Consulted

Coffman, Michael, Ph.D.  Rescuing a Broken America: Why America is Deeply Divided and How to Heal it Constitutionally. Morgan James Publishing: New York, 2010.

Nickson, Elizabeth.  Eco-Fascists: How Radical Conservationists are Destroying Our Natural Heritage.  Broadside Books: An Imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers: New York, 2012.

Paugh, Ileana Johnson, Ph.D.  “Conservation Easements for Unsuspecting Farmers.”  Electronic Document retrieved May, 2014 at  http://canadafreepress.com/index.php/print-friendly/60623

 

 

 

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