Land Lessons

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Published: June 11,2001

VICKSBURG — At a May 30-31 workshop held at Tara Wildlife, landowners, appraisers and attorneys got the chance to learn a thing or two about conservation easements. It is a topic some people are not very familiar with, but is something that should be a consideration for almost every landowner, said Gilbert Rose, president of Tara Wildlife Inc.

Rose said conservation easements, although an important part of maintaining wildlife, are not something to be taken lightly.

“Conservation easement is in perpetuity,” he said.

But easement can be as flexible or as tight as a landowner wants it to be, and there are tax deductions available for someone who makes their land into an easement.

“You determine what you want and donate that to various organizations in the state,” Rose said.

Some organizations that landowners can donate their land to include Ducks Unlimited, Mississippi Wildlife, the Nature Conservancy and the Wildlife Federation. Evaluations are done before an easement is made in order to determine the value of the piece of property. Tax deductions can total as much as $2 million in some cases.

Conservation easements are hard to amend and therefore they require a lot of thought and planning, Rose said. Some organizations have strict requirements for easements while others are more flexible. But with all the organizations out there, a wide range of habitat can be protected.

Bill Tomlinson, president of Wildlife Technical Services Inc. in Vicksburg, is a registered forester and a certified wildlife biologist. He said conservation easements make sense for a lot of people, but many know little about them.

“Hopefully our company can have some input in furthering the knowledge of conservation easements,” he said.

Tomlinson explained that landowners do not give up all their rights when it comes to conservation easements, only the ones they want to include in their bundle of rights. And, he added, easements are strictly voluntary.

“If you choose to pull anything out of your bundle that has historical, scenic or high conservation value then it could have value in the standpoint of value in reduction of taxes,” Tomlinson said.

He suggested that landowners create a “wish list” of things they want to hang onto and things they are willing to give up.

“You may be willing to give up your right of subdivision, which means you’ve restricted your purchasing base,” he explained.

Tomlinson said if the 501(c)(3) organization that a landowner has donated their land to goes out of business, their land goes to a backup holder. For example, the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks is a backup holder.

“There was a tremendous amount of energy that flowed through this (workshop) group we had,” Tomlinson said. “Everybody was interested in what everyone else had to say and no one was intimidated by questions.”

And, Tomlinson added, Tara was the perfect setting for the workshop.

“All you had to do was look out the window and see a conservation easement in place,” he said.

Some people came to the workshop with one idea about conservation easements in mind and left with another.

“This is not a preservation program but a conservation and perpetuation program of existing resources,” Tomlinson said. “Landowners owe it to themselves to look at conservation easements to see if there’s a fit for their particular situation, from a tax, a personal and an estate standpoint.”

Jack Mann, M.A.I., is an appraiser with Jorgenson and Mann in Jackson. He lectured on the appraisal portion of the workshop held at Tara.

“It was a very successful seminar,” he said.

Mann estimated that 400,000 acres of land were represented at the seminar by landowners and their lawyers.

“The point of the program is motivation,” Mann said. “Another benefit is it saves on estate taxes.”

A total of 75 people from Mississippi, Arkansas, Texas and Tennessee attended the Tara Conservation Easements Workshop. More workshops will be held in the future to educate attorneys and accountants on the values and benefits of conservation easements. The next workshop will probably be held around August.

“The feedback was very positive,” Mann said. “Some came with one idea and have more to think about now. I think everyone found it worthwhile.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Elizabeth Kirkland at ekirkland@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1042.

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