Press, Fort Jones, California
Wednesday, June 2, 2004
Vol. 32, No. 29
Page A1, column 2
Controversy brews in
easements will not keep the government from
taking water rights.
easements are not intended to solve all your
problems," said Greg Hendrickson, a San
By Liz Bowen, Assistant
Editor, Pioneer Press
SISKIYOU COUNTY, CALIFORNIA
– Just this winter, conservation groups made
their presence known locally to farmers,
ranchers and timber companies. It was a cold
blast of reality.
The term "willing seller"
has been questioned over and over again during
the last six years, in meetings and
down-at-the-cafe discussions, since the coho
salmon was listed with the federal Endangered
Species Act (ESA).
With the impending listing
of the coho salmon to the California ESA on
June 25, retaining lawful water rights are a
major concern for this agricultural county
that borders Oregon.
The California Department of
Fish and Game is seeking restrictions and
regulations on water right allotments or use,
so that agriculture water can be used in coho
streams to increase water flows.
Mountain-grown alfalfa, grain and pasture are
the largest agricultural crops grown in
Siskiyou County, along with beef cattle.
Government restrictions have jeopardized
practical timber harvest.
More than 60 individuals
attended a forum sponsored by the Scott River
Watershed Council on May 18 at the Scott
Valley Grange in Greenview.
An impressive set of
speakers had been obtained – 10 in all. Some
traveled from as far as San Francisco (300
miles) to provide information and answer
questions in this out-of-the-way Scott Valley.
Chairman of the watershed
council, Ric Costales, told the group that
conservation easements, referred to as C.E.s,
are controversial and that the forum was
informational and not confrontational. The
council would not be endorsing any side of the
issues. A few heated comments were made, but
the meeting remained calm.
There is concern that the state water right
law will be up-ended by the state ESA. Enviro
groups have threatened lawsuits to increase
water flows for coho.
Landowners, through the local Save Our
Shasta and Scott Valleys and Towns coalition (SOSS),
California Farm Bureau, California Cattlemen’s
Association, and other state-wide groups, have
also threatened a lawsuit against the state if
water is lost; or business-destroying
regulations are implemented.
Loss of irrigation water will affect the
production and sustainability of farms and
During the last several years groups that
offer C.E.s, like The Nature Conservancy, have
In reaction, some property rights groups
have become frustrated at the idea of
"restrictions" being placed on property; and
that the future owners, will find that the
property restrictions go on forever, according
to present law. Calls for alarm have been made
throughout the nation. J. Zane Walley, of the
Paragon Foundation, wrote several years ago on
the controversy brewing over conservation
Landowners are paid, usually up front, for
the C.E. land restriction. It is purchased by
a non-profit 501 (c) 3 organization or
The Nature Conservancy is the most well
known organization to purchase conservation
easements and land for the purpose of
restricting its use. But other groups are
popping up for a variety of reasons. And
governments are getting more and more into the
land-buying and owning business as well.
Conservation easements must have a purpose
Greg Hendrickson, a San Francisco attorney,
explained the uses behind C.E.s. They are only
used for specific land restrictions and only
non-profit organizations or government
agencies can designate a C.E., according to
The main uses for a C.E. are as follows.
-- To restrict subdivisions;
-- To stop other land development;
-- To preserve open space;
-- To provide or preserve water (other than
-- To preserve wildlife habitat;
-- To maintain scenic views;
-- To provide outdoor recreation;
-- To preserve historical structures.
"This is really an opportunity for you to
say ‘this is what I envision for this
property,’" said Hendrickson.
Water right questions asked
Blair Hart, a Shasta Valley rancher, asked
if a C.E. will protect his water right against
the state or federal governments’ actions that
may change his water use.
"Will the holder litigate and defend me and
the water right?" he said.
Hendrickson responded by saying that C.E.s
are not intended to solve all landowner
problems, adding "I’d say ‘no’ that a C.E.
will not keep the government from taking water
Gary Black, a Scott Valley farmer, asked if
any of the conservation groups or officials of
government agencies in the audience were
there, because they were interested in the
purchase of water rights. (There were at least
10 state and federal employees in
attendance.) No one responded.
Hendrickson then said that a C.E. really
isn’t the right tool to use on water right
Bill Gardiner, from the National Resource
Conservation Service field office in Yreka,
said there is a wetlands program that pays a
certain amount of funds for a specific number
of years to provide water that will maintain
wetlands. But the program does not purchase
Easements are like buying a hat
An analogy was made by Gareth Plank, a
Scott Valley rancher, about C.E.s. It is like
buying a hat. First you need to know what you
want; then you need to go to those with the
best expertise and advice; and then customize
the C.E. to your type of land and needs.
Others on the forum agreed.
Two items were agreed upon by the 10 forum
1. Obtain good advice from an attorney, who
2. The landowner must discuss the situation
with his or her accountant -- in-depth.
"Be very thoughtful about it," said Jake
Jacobson, with The Nature Conservancy.
"Conservation easements are terrific tools for
some families," he added.
Larry Camp, with the Internal Revenue
Service, was up front. He said that
conservation easements are best used as an
estate-planning tool. Income from the purchase
of a C.E. placed on land will be taxed at
capital gains rates in the year that the
landowner receives the revenue.
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