Both Midway and Wasatch County voted in favor of land preservation with the passage of two open space bonds, one $5 million, the other $10 million.
Utah Open Lands Executive Director, Wendy Fisher says for many landowners it is not feasible to put their property under a conservation easement.
“And there are a lot of landowners who have always been receptive to this idea. But, as is the case with a lot of landowners, their land is their cash. Their land is their inheritance. Their land is what they have to pass on to the next generation. And, as much as they may want to preserve it, they may not be able to fully donate a conservation easement and take advantage of the tax incentives.”
Fisher says with the $15 million in open space bond approval, there’s a much bigger opportunity to leverage the money in preservation deals. She says much of Utah’s economy is tied to outdoor recreation.
“So, when you drop over I-40 and you look at that wide, open space, those are what typically, people call the North Fields. Well, those are not protected. And so, there’s a big move now with a lot of landowners, yeah, we want to see this agricultural heritage protected and with a vote of the people, that’s what they’re trying to do.”
Fisher recognizes how land values have increased in Wasatch County and she believes they can use the $15 million to leverage other funds that are available for agricultural and ranch conservation. They also rely on the landowners to donate a portion of the value of the land as well.
“That $15 million through tax incentive, through federal funding like the NRCS, through funding through the state fund, the LeRoy McAllister Fund, which call your legislator and tell them you like open space, cause that’s the only way we get these things done. We’re hoping to leverage that $15million. Maybe be able to double that so that what comes into the community for open space preservation is maybe $30 million.”
A recent report from the Center for American Progress and Conservation Science Partners shows nearly 580,000 acres of land in Utah has been lost to development since 2001. Fisher says the $12 billion outdoor industry tells a lot about why people visit Utah. She says Utah Open Lands has been racing against time for 30 years to protect open spaces.
“Scenic value and recreational opportunity are the top two reasons people move to relocate their businesses here. Again, I keep trying to point to the economic values because sometimes in a conservative state like Utah, there isn’t necessarily and immediate reaction of yeah, we should be protecting that open space. And so, as many farmers have said, once it’s developed, that is the last crop.”