Vt. Land Trust conserved 2,200 Addison County acres
ADDISON COUNTY — Vermont Land Trust (VLT) protected more than 12,000 acres of farmland and forest across the state via conservation easements in the last fiscal year. More than 2,200 acres, almost one-fifth of the conserved land, is in Addison County.
Allen Karnatz, VLT’s Champlain Valley farm director, explains that people sell their development rights for multiple reasons. Property owners typically engage in conservation easements when the land is being transferred, often between generations. The VLT director points out that many easements are driven by owners’ emotional attachment to their land.
“It’s a legacy thing for them,” he said. “They don’t ever want to see it developed, and this is a way that they can ensure that development doesn’t happen.”
For others, such as dairy farmers, who are often in debt, conservation easements are economic agreements made to reduce debt on the farm. Selling their development rights offers a way for farmers to use their land as an asset and capitalize on its higher value without developing it and parceling off house lots. This enables them to keep the land in agriculture for future farmers. Some people use proceeds from the easement to make improvements on the farm by constructing a new barn, investing in other facilities, or purchasing more land.
This past March, David Spencer sold a conservation easement on the 458-acre Addison farm he grew up on, adjacent to the Dead Creek Wildlife Management Area, and another protected farm. While continuing to lease 177 acres to a local feed company, Spencer will allocate the rest to wildlife habitat and sustainable forestry, a according to VLT’s recently released annual report according to VLT’s recently released annual report.
Funded by the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board (VHCB), with matching funds from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the easement restricts logging on 56 acres of clayplain forest.
Likewise, the Stowe family in New Haven sold a conservation easement on two parcels of farmland, together 224 acres, which Wright Stowe obtained from his parents in 1945. Roger Stowe says that the main motivation for selling the easement to VLT was paying off his mortgage, with the additional benefit of preserving agricultural property. Funded by the VHCB, with matching funds from the NRCS, the easement sold in August for less than the appraised value.
Interested in raising pasture-based beef, Josh and Janelle Lucas of Orwell bought their first farm, the already conserved Hornbeck farm, and then sold an affordability provision on 185 acres last August. The provision grants VLT the right to buy the farm at its agricultural value if future owners try to sell it to a non-farmer. Funded by the VHCB, the amended easement also protects a swath of valley clayplain forest.
In Weybridge, Middlebury Area Land Trust (MALT) donated a conservation easement on 104 acres that it sold to Monument Farms Dairy. The property includes both farmland and woodland with 41 acres of rich agricultural soil. Monument Farms plans to use the cultivable land for forage and collaborate with MALT to develop wildlife habitat. This easement protects a small stream and two forested regions that act as wildlife corridors. It also preserves access to the part of the Trail Around Middlebury, known as the TAM, that winds through this land.
Last June, Middlebury College donated a conservation easement on 1,458 acres of its Bread Loaf campus in Ripton to VLT in collaboration with the Nature Conservancy. The land possesses high biodiversity, abundant rivers and wetlands that build flood resilience, lush forests, and more than 50 kilometers of cross-country ski trails managed by the Rikert Nordic Center. Because this highly variegated landscape neighbors lands comprising the Green Mountain National Forest, the easement will connect it to already protected areas, creating contiguous diverse wildlife habitat for species with extensive ranges, preserving biodiversity, and enhancing climate change resilience. The campus includes the college’s School of English, the nationally renowned Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and poet Robert Frost’s summer writing cabin.
Trustee and conservation philanthropist Louis Bacon, a 1979 graduate of the college, led the easement by establishing the Bread Loaf Preservation Fund through his private Moore Charitable Foundation and matching funds from the college. The fund provides for the long-term conservation, protection, and effective management of the campus and adjoining forests and fields, thus securing the future of the educational and recreational activities these lands support. Although it limits how the college can use the land, the easement highlights the value of this asset as a large, undeveloped picturesque tract of forest.
VLT’s Karnatz says that although most of the organization’s focus is on farmland, especially dairy farms, the college’s massive unique donation makes forest almost 80 percent of acreage conserved last year.
Nevertheless, aiding agriculture is a key benefit of VLT’s conservation work.
As Karnatz puts it, through purchasing conservation easements, VLT seeks to be at the forefront of conserving Vermont’s prime agricultural land in Addison County’s Champlain Valley. “This is a way to help secure that critical resource for farming into the future, to help the long-term viability of Vermont agriculture,” he said.