Reducing Property Taxes While Protecting Land and Wildlife

The conservation organization in the Colorado Rockies helps reduce property taxes while protecting land and wildlife.


| March/April 1987



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The Moore Ranch will never be closed to migrating deer and elk.


The Trust for Public Land

This conservation organization helps property owners reduce taxes while protecting land and wildlife. 

Reducing Property Taxes While Protecting Land and Wildlife

High in the Colorado Rockies, near the little town of Pagosa Springs, sits the Moore Ranch—a paradise of mountains and meadows filigreed with sparkling snowmelt streams. Owners Joe and Beth Moore love it. So do their cattle. And so do the herds of deer and elk that wander down each fall from the mountains, crossing the ranch en route to their traditional wintering grounds in the sheltered valleys below … only to turn around a few months later and follow the spring green-up back across the ranch to their high-country summering meadows. For as long as the Moores can remember or imagine, this annual circular migration has been a part of the land.

In recent years, however, the people have come. Herds and droves of people. And with the people came subdivisions looking like prairie dog towns, condominiums like anthills, and a blight of summer ranchettes along either side of the twisting two-lane blacktop that divides high country from low. Before much longer, the Moores knew, most wildlife migration routes would be sealed off by this onslaught of development, leaving hundreds of deer and elk stranded in the high country each winter to starve and freeze. Something had to be done when it came to protecting land, and the Moores were of a mind to do it.

What Joe and Beth did—with encouragement and guidance from a San Francisco-based land-conservation organization called the Trust for Public Land (TPL) and a Pagosa Springs citizens' group called Upper San Juan Land Protection—was to designate a permanent conservation easement across the 363-acre portion of their ranch that serves as a wildlife migration corridor.

Land ownership encompasses a bundle of separate rights-mineral, water, agricultural, development, and others—with a landowner having the power to sell or give away some rights while retaining the rest. A conservation easement is a legal instrument with which the landowner separates and retires the right to subdivide and develop the land. Under the terms of the Moores' easement—which was legally attached to the property's deed and thus is binding on all future owners—Joe and Beth can ranch their land as always, continue to control public access, and pass the property on to their heirs or sell it as they desire. But the 363 acres dedicated to the conservation easement can never be subdivided, developed, or used in any way that would interfere with its suitability as wildlife habitat. The Colorado Division of Wildlife—to whom the easement was granted for guardianship—will inspect the land annually to assure that the terms of the easement are being met.

When an easement is donated to a local land trust, the donor generally is expected to make a contribution to an endowment that covers the costs of establishing baseline data, annual monitoring to assure that the terms of the easement are being met, and enforcement if necessary. The amount of this contribution, which is tax deductible, is negotiated with the land trust and is based on the complexity of monitoring and other anticipated difficulties. For the Moores' easement, the main expense was a "before and after" appraisal to document the value of the income tax deduction.





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