Protecting Your Land
There are two ways the Chippewa Watershed Conservancy can help to permanently preserve and protect your land.
Establishing a Conservation Easement
You can establish a conservation easement on all or part of your land. A conservation easement is a voluntary legal agreement between a landowner and a land trust, or conservancy, which contains permanent restrictions on the use or development of land in order to protect clearly defined conservation values, such as wildlife habitat, scenic or open space, prime farmland or historical significance. It limits but does not necessarily prohibit all development. For example, there may be a provision for some future land splits to allow home sites for family members.
There may be tax benefits. Donation or sale of an easement at less than fair market value to a qualified conservancy may be treated as a charitable gift of the development rights, and may be deductible on the landowner’s federal income tax return. There may also be estate tax benefits or property tax benefits based on the reduction in the value of the land as a result of the permanent restriction on future development.
A conservation easement “runs with the land.” It is not eliminated by a change in ownership. It is filed with the Register of Deeds and its existence will show up any time a title company, lender or individual does a title search of the property. Along with this permanence comes a responsibility for the conservancy, the easement holder, to monitor the land to ensure the terms are being met, and to protect against any violations. This creates a burden on the conservancy to ensure the time and expense to conduct the monitoring and the funds required to defend the easement in any necessary court action are permanently available, but this is both our promise to the grantor and our legal responsibility as the grantee.
It is also important to know what a conservation easement does not do. It does not, by its nature, allow public access. The landowner still controls who does and does not have access to his/her land. It does not prevent the transfer of ownership. A landowner can sell or lease the land if he wishes, but the terms of the easement remain in effect. Finally, an easement does not restrict any property rights that don’t negatively impact the conservation values of the easement. For example, a landowner can lease hunting rights or farming rights or otherwise continue to do whatever he/she wishes on the land, subject to the terms of the easement.
See our Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ's) page for details.
Establishing a Preserve
You can establish a preserve through the donation or sale of land to the CWC. A preserve is land that the conservancy owns. It may be purchased or it may be donated, but we are the actual owners of the land in our preserves. When land is transferred to us the conservancy pays associated transfer taxes and the property taxes due for the remainder of the year in which the transfer occurred. After that, due to the conservancy’s status as a nonprofit conservation organization, the land is removed from the tax rolls. (It should be noted that the land must be held and used for conservation purposes in order to be removed from the tax rolls. If it is not being held for conservation purposes, e.g., if we receive a donation of land and intend to sell it with no use restrictions, it remains on the tax rolls). Preserve lands are open to the public so long as public use does not conflict with the conservation purposes of the preserve.
Of the 14 preserves currently owned by the CWC, three have been developed. Sylvan Solace, our 78-acre parcel in Isabella County, off West Pickard Road, near Littlefield Road, has a small parking area and series of foot trails through the preserve. Some 300 yards south of the parking area is the Memorial Grove consisting of a pedestal holding a granite slab with inscriptions in memory of people and events as provided by special memorial donations. The Alyce J. Peterson Natural Area in Mecosta County, 3 miles north of Stanwood, on 180th Avenue, also has a small parking area on the east side of the property but no trails have yet been created. The Neely Preserve is on the south end of Hall's Lake in Isabella County. It has a small parking area at the intersection of Broomfield and Old State Roads. Walk down the gated 2-track fifty feet and you will find the beginning of a nature trail on the left that will take you through a substantial portion of the property and bring you out on Old State Road.
We may manage the preserves for the benefit of wildlife. At Sylvan Solace we created a butterfly garden with native plants to support caterpillars and adult butterflies. At several preserves we have installed nest boxes for bluebirds, Tree Swallows, House Wrens, Wood Ducks, and Screech-owls. Occasionally we have volunteer opportunities to eliminate invasive plant species.