Generous landowners who donate voluntary conservation easements to the Upper Valley Land Trust are inspired by many things: they love living in the Upper Valley, they feel connected to their land, they notice development pressure and the impacts this can have on communities, and they wish to leave a legacy for future generations. This inspiration is central to our work to help landowners permanently protect valuable natural resources; yet, for all conservation easement donors, donating a conservation easement is a major financial decision. The federal income tax deduction that comes with a donation helps make easements possible for many landowners in our community.
Congress recently renewed an income tax incentive that enables family farmers, ranchers, and other moderate-income landowners to utilize more of the significant tax benefit for donating a conservation easement on their land. The legislation allows conservation easement donors to:
- Deduct up to 50% of their adjusted gross income in any year (up from 30%); or
- Deduct up to 100% of their adjusted gross income if the majority of that income came from farming, ranching or forestry; and
- Continue to take deductions for as long as 16 years (up from 6 years).
This valuable conservation tool was first enacted in 2006. In that time the Upper Valley Land Trust has worked with willing landowners to protect over 9,620 acres. Landowners who donate conservation easements, or sell easements at discounted price (often called a “bargain sale”) in 2010 or 2011 can now enjoy these increased benefits, but unless Congress acts again, this enhanced incentive will be scaled back after December 31, 2011.
For more information on these updates to the tax law, please download the 2010 Tax Incentive Update. To learn more about the initiative to make these conservation tax incentives permanent, you can also visit www.lta.org/easementincentive.
The Plainfield Cider Orchard is the latest property to be conserved with assistance from a grant-making program of the State of NH. The New Hampshire Land and Community Heritage Investment Program (LCHIP) is an independent state authority that makes matching grants to NH communities and non-profits to conserve and preserve New Hampshire’s most important natural, cultural and historic resources. Over the past ten years, the Upper Valley Land Trust has obtained funds for the conservation of 13 different parcels encompassing more than 2300 acres in seven Upper Valley Towns. Unfortunately, the Plainfield property may be one of the last, as LCHIP could be a casualty of the State’s difficult budget situation.
“The Land and Community Heritage Program is really important, “says Jeanie McIntyre, President of the Upper Valley Land Trust. “LCHIP investments enable the State to take a leadership role in prioritizing conservation resources that are important to all residents. While, there is no doubt that community members can be highly effective working at the grassroots level, there are also broader interests at stake. Having a program like LCHIP ensures that the State is part of the process and outcomes.”
Conservation projects supported by LCHIP in the Upper Valley include working farmland in Piermont, Bath, Claremont and Haverhill and the protection of more than five miles of frontage on the Connecticut, Ammonoosuc, & Mascoma rivers. An LCHIP grant was awarded for the conservation of the 900+ acre Bear Pond property in Canaan, acquired by the Mascoma Watershed Conservation Council for management as a natural area. The Plainfield property includes land identified and mapped in the NH Wildlife Action Plan (2005) as Appalachian Oak-Pine forest, a forest community type that is of conservation concern in the state. The land is a part of a 3440 acre unfragmented forest block identified as a priority in the Wildlife Action Plan. “These properties illustrate the statewide significance of the resources LCHIP has prioritized in our region,” says McIntyre.
A website maintained by LCHIP states: “Through this investment Program every $1 in resources brings back more than five times local, private, federal funds.” The track record in the Upper Valley supports this finding. Projects receiving LCHIP funding have also been supported by local contributions, private foundations, municipal conservation funds and landowner bargain sales. “Some say that LCHIP’s grants are relatively small and could be replaced if State funding were eliminated,” says McIntyre, “But the importance of having the credibility and momentum that comes when the State is a partner, and the public/private collaboration that results, is often a critical element in the success of a project.
Statewide, LCHIP has provided $27.6 million to conservation and historic preservation projects since 2000, supporting 183 projects in 116 NH Towns. The program has been funded through a dedicated surcharge on recording deeds and through the sale of conservation license plates. Legislators will be taking a hard look at this and many other state programs as they attempt to balance the State’s budget in the coming weeks and months. McIntyre says she hopes LCHIP can be sustained. “It really would be sad to have the State step away from land conservation,” she says. “It’s not just about the particular projects that won’t be funded. It’s also about whether New Hampshire, as a State, can find a way to continue to invest in the natural resources and environmental qualities that we need for our future.”
Follow this link to learn more about the Economic Benefits of LCHIP: http://www.uvlt.org/docs/pdf/LCHIP%20Benefits%201%2018%2011.pdf
The Plainfield Cider Orchard has been protected through a conservation easement purchased from landowners Steve Wood and J. Peter Williamson in a bargain sale, with support from the New Hampshire Land & Community Heritage Investment Program (LCHIP) [see New Hampshire Partners with Land Trust to Conserve Farms, Natural Areas], the Plainfield Conservation Commission and other members of the community. The easement is held by Upper Valley Land Trust.
UVLT President, Jeanie McIntyre says of the project, “I’m glad we’re finishing this project now. It has local and statewide significance and was made possible in a large part through the landowners’ generous bargain sale.”
The Plainfield Cider Orchard property contributes 447 acres to an unfragmented 3440 acre forest block in the northern part of Plainfield. This expansive undeveloped property provides habitat and important wildlife corridors for many species. More than 200 acres of the Plainfield Cider Orchard have been identified by the New Hampshire Wildlife Action Plan as Appalachian Oak-Pine forest, a forest community type that is of conservation concern in the state. Large, undeveloped tracts of this forest type are critical to wide-ranging species such as moose and black bear.
UVLT’s Vice President of Conservation, Peg Merrens said at the project closing, “This is the first step in terms of conservation for the neighborhood. We’ve had some good conversations with other area landowners, and we hope to have more in the future.”
In addition to protecting important wildlife habitat, the project protects a productive apple orchard that serves the nationally-recognized Farnum Hill Ciders. Stephen Wood and Peter Williamson purchased this property in 1998 as partners in the Plainfield Cider Orchards, LLC. Since then, they have planted more than 3000 apple trees, many of which are rare and heirloom varieties specific to the production of the high quality traditional ciders made by Farnum Hill Ciders. The cidery, owned and operated by Mr. Wood and his wife, Louisa Spencer, is recognized as producing some of the best hard ciders in the United States. Wood says of the project, “It’s good to know that I have a chunk of ground that’s safe for good and all.”
Steve Wood signs documents at the closing of the Plainfield Cider Orchard conservation easement on 12/23.
While the public benefits from the scenic views, wildlife habitat and a productive apple orchard, this conservation easement also ensures that the property will always be available for public recreational enjoyment. The community has historically enjoyed recreating on the Plainfield Cider Orchard property, especially along the discontinued Black Hill Road. Once a primary route between the Connecticut River and Lebanon to Meriden village, it was thrown up by the town of Plainfield in the mid-1900’s. The easement allows for low-impact, non-motorized recreation such as hiking, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing along this historic route, as well as in other parts of the property. Mr. Wood also welcomes hunters, but requests that they receive prior permission, ensuring the safety of owners, workers and visitors, particularly in areas near the orchard and the trails.
So, as you celebrate with a glass of Farnum Hill Cider this holiday season, know that the land where it’s produced will provide benefits to the Upper Valley forever.
For more information about Farnum Hill Cider, visit:
As of Thursday, December 23rd, a 45-acre parcel of land located within the Cornish Art Colony is protected by a conservation easement. The Upper Valley Land Trust holds the easement and through it will ensure the preservation of the land’s character and scenic qualities.
Located on Dingleton Hill Road, the parcel, known as “Fern Hill,” is in a priority area for conservation, highlighted both by the Town of Cornish and by the federal government due to its proximity to the Saint Gaudens National Historic Site. It is located within a corridor of largely undeveloped land extending from the Connecticut River east to the Yatsevitch Forest. From the property edge along Dingleton Hill Road, there are scenic views of the UVLT-conserved Fitch Farm, as well as of Mt. Ascutney, and other parts of the Green Mountain State.
Peg Merrens, UVLT’s Vice President Conservation, said at the closing “We are so pleased to add another parcel to this conservation corridor in Cornish.”
The land was once entirely open farmland, part of the William Westgate farm, one of the original hill farms in Cornish. It was willed to its current owner, Carol Quimby Heath, by her father. Now mostly forested, the parcel still includes more than two acres of open fields around the existing residence. The property is a place where Mrs. Heath and her extended family gather. Some family members choose to enjoy the land by camping out in the fields and along the forest edges.
Mrs. Heath signs the conservation easement protecting her land in Cornish as UVLT's Peg Merrens looks on.
After signing the conservation easement deed, Mrs. Heath explained her hopes for the land, “I am relieved to know that this land will stay just the same in the future.”
As fall began its progression to winter, the Zebedee Headwaters property continued its transition to a more naturally functioning wetland ecosystem. The Upper Valley Land Trust, as owner of the property and recipient of a Watershed Grant from the State of Vermont, is committed to stewarding this property as a natural area for people to visit, learn, and enjoy.
With this stewardship commitment in mind, UVLT has worked to remove an old earthen dam and return the wetland to a more natural condition. UVLT contracted with a qualified engineer and consulted with Vermont’s Wetlands Bureau, to restore the Zebedee wetland by breaching the earthen dam that has impounded the waters of Zebedee Brook for decades.
View of Zebedee wetland and the earthen dam on Halloween day 2010.
This work has gone as follows:
- UVLT obtained permits from VT Agency of Natural Resources to remove the dam;
Northwoods Excavating team arrives to prepare the site on November 11, 2010
- Engineering and surveying – studies by professionals resulted in plans for a breach of the dam to recreate the natural channel outlet of the wetland, and carefully control any potential erosion;
- Water lowering and dam breach – Water levels were drawn down, and, when conditions permitted, UVLT’s local contractor performed the dam breach according to the engineer’s plans;
Dam breach underway and completed on November 15, 2010.
- Erosion control – (1) the contractor stabilized and seeded the site where material from the dam was deposited and the wide sloped opening that reestablished the channel for Zebedee Brook, and (2) On the recommendation of the VT Wetlands Bureau, UVLT seeded the exposed soils within the wetland that resulted from the lower water levels with native wetland seed from Vermont Wetland Plant Supply.
Jason Berard, UVLT Stewardship Coordinator, cleans up after broadcasting the native wetland seeds at Zebedee
With this dam breach – now complete! – Zebedee Brook will again flow along its natural course through this beautiful area, on its way to the Connecticut River.
Of course, the beaver colony currently residing in these headwater stretches may have another plan in mind. While much of the woody food supply immediately surrounding this portion of the Zebedee wetland has already been consumed, the activity just upstream (including a growing beaver dam close to the gate on UVLT’s property) is busier than ever.
What happens if the beaver just rebuild the dam? In short, if the beaver decide that re-creating the pond is beneficial to them, they will attempt it. UVLT staff will continue to monitor the property and we hope to find no need to intervene. We will join you in marveling at the dedication and craftsmanship of these impressive rodents.
A frosty morning overlooking the up-stream beaver dam at the Zebedee wetland
A beaver dammed wetland is more dynamic than a system that includes a manmade dam, such as the one that UVLT had breached at Zebedee Headwaters. If the beaver reconstruct their own dam in this spot, the pond will fill up, and the beaver will maintain the dam with sticks and mud while utilizing the nearby landscape for food and building materials. In time, however, the beaver will run out of their preferred food sources, and move on. As these dams break down without steady maintenance from the beaver, the waterway will reopen, and the wetland communities will shift in response. One day, after the food source has reestablished in their absence, the beaver may return. This dynamic system is one that has helped create so much of the ecological mosaic of our region, and UVLT is pleased to know that Zebedee Headwaters is becoming a natural place once again.
The dam removal and wetland restoration work at Zebedee Headwaters was funded in part through a Vermont Watershed Grant made possible through the Conservation License Plate Program:
The winter months are a time to rest, reflect and enjoy our root vegetables. It’s also a great time to get together to talk about food, gardens, and eating healthy, local food.
Catamount Earth Institute, the Co-op Food Stores, Sierra Club, Sustainable Hanover, the Upper Valley Land Trust, the Upper Valley Localvores, the Valley Food Council and Vital Communities invite you to join with 8-12 friends and neighbors for a Menu for the Future discussion group this winter.
This is a six-session discussion program about sustainable food systems. Topics include: industrial agriculture, organics, processed food, Fair Trade, food and health, and eating sustainably and locally. Most groups meet weekly for 1 ½ hours. Some groups have simple soup & bread meals along with the discussions. Readings have been compiled by the Northwest Earth Institute of Portland, Oregon. They represent some of today’s most revered food and agriculture writers such as Michael Pollan, Eliot Coleman and Wendell Berry.
Participants read 10-12 pages each week. Menu for the Future provides suggested discussion questions. A Community Conversations volunteer is available to lead the first session. Group members will take turns facilitating the remaining sessions. Menu for the Future readers are available for group members for $11 from the Norwich Bookstore or Hanover Food Co-op’s Service Desk. Lebanon, Quechee, Norwich, and Bethel library groups may borrow books at these libraries thanks to grants from the Stettenheim Foundation and Anne Slade Frey Charitable Trust. The books for sale are underwritten by the Jack and Dorothy Byrne Foundation, King Arthur Flour, Mascoma Savings Bank Foundation, River Road Vet Clinic, and the Sierra Club.
Join us! See http://www.catamountearthinstitute.org/ for a list and calendar of starting dates and places. The group hosted by UVLT will meet at our office, 19 Buck Road, on Tuesdays beginning on Feb. 22 at 12pm. Register by contacting Nora at firstname.lastname@example.org or visiting the Catamount Earth Institute website.
The Town of Weathersfield now has a Town Forest, protected by a scenic easement. This is a lovely 310 acre property on the southern slope of Mount Ascutney. The Town’s purchase of this property for conservation was made possible through a grant from the National Scenic Byway Program through the State of VT Agency of Transportation, local community matching funds from the Weathersfield Land Preservation Association (WLPA) and nearly 100 individual donors in the area. Weatherfield’s Conservation Commission and the WLPA were instrumental in the community fundraising effort.
The property is seen as a significant community asset for its natural resource values including scenic slopes, wildlife habitat, water quality protection and forest resources. The Town Forest is also a recreational resource that will be open to the public for low-impact use. The parcel’s acreage extends an existing corridor of protected natural areas (which include Ascutney State Park, the West Windsor Town forest and the Little Ascutney Wildlife Management Area) to over 5,000 acres! The land is almost entirely forested aside from a power line corridor, and has mixed habitat types including potentially important bobcat denning sites.
From left to right: Jim Mullen, Weathersfield Town Manager, Peg Merrens, UVLT Vice President Conservation, Chris Callahan representing the Town of Weathersfield, Willis Wood and Steve Aikenhead for WLPA, and George Lamb representing the Estate of Janet Fellows.
Please visit these links for more information (released during the fund-raising phase of this project):