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Acquiring Private Lands in River Corridors

A stream is more than flowing water. It includes headwater drainage basins, tributaries, wetlands, the floodplains with their gallery cottonwood bottoms, all the way down to its confluence with larger waters. Riparian areas are a shelter and food source for fish and wildlife. They act as a filter against water pollution, they store flood waters and release water for late summer temperature buffering.

Stream Falls PhotoTaking advantage of sudden opportunities in acquiring riverine lands into public ownership sometimes requires fast action. A major land holding that is critical to fish and wildlife may suddenly come on the market and require immediate real estate action on behalf of the river and the public for permanent protection, not short-term stewardship. Conservation land acquisition is a partnership of private conservation groups and government. The key to success is involving local folks in the appraisal so that the public knows that a reasonable price is being paid for the land. Tax benefits to the seller may accrue if the land is purchased by the public for below appraised value.

Land trust organizations can use the –conservation buyer” strategy to acquire riverine lands. The conservation buyer then donates a conservation easement that limits development.

Electric utilities, in order to justify their dam re-licensing, can be required to buy and conserve river lands. Carbon sequestration can be used to limit effects of CO2 emissions to counter global warming treaty limitations.

Industries and utilities can be required to buy forest and riverine land for conservation in order to earn –carbon credits” to mitigate their CO2 emissions.

Conservation easements
Local and regional land trusts and government entities hold title to easements that they own and manage and must show ability to uphold their permanent commitments to the legal easements. The number of land uses that are available to a landowner are restricted, usually forever, thus reducing property taxes. Once negotiated, the conservation easement is recorded along with the property deed. The landowner retains property ownership subject to the terms of the conservation easement.

1. Conservation easements reduce property taxes.

2. To protect the stream the conservation easement may prohibit the cultivation of eroding farmland thereby reducing sediment in the stream. Or, an unfarmed buffer zone along the stream with erosion reducing plantings may be required.

Monitoring the easement over time is costly and enforcement of the easement may be difficult. A maintenance fund endowment from the seller may be necessary to cover for easement violations and to help protect the conservation easement program. Inspection of the easement, frequency of inspection and method must be established. An –inspection notice letter” should be written to alert the landowner, giving at least 2 weeks advance notice and encouraging the landowner to participate. An inspection form, checklist and map should reflect the organizationês standard easement provisions.

Assistance from those on the property should be elicited and findings findings of the inspection accurately recorded. Completed inspection forms should be kept on file for future reference and as updates to the easementês original documents. Clear and serious violations must be acted on immediately. After acquisitions of these river corridor lands following projects would be undertaken:

• Pulling out dams

• Restoring flood plains

• Fencing livestock out of streams

• Creating greenways

• Creating wildlife refuges. ~

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