The U.S. Senate last night adopted a bipartisan amendment introduced by Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, that will provide landowners and producers with more incentives and opportunities to enter into conservation easements. The amendment was cosponsored by Senators Mark Udall (D-CO), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Max Baucus (D-MT), Mike Enzi (R-WY), Jon Tester (D-MT) and John Barrasso (R-WY). The Senate unanimously supported the amendment to the 2012 Farm Bill.
"Through dozens of meetings I've had about the Farm Bill in Colorado, farmers and ranchers have continually talked about the importance of conservation -- conservation of their way of life and conservation of their land," Bennet said. "This amendment will strengthen conservation easement programs, which help landowners voluntarily conserve the farming and ranching heritage of their land."
Lynne Sherrod, of Collbran, Colorado and the western policy manager for the Land Trust Alliance, said, "Working land easements enable willing landowners to keep their land in production, which in turn provides food and fiber, clean water, wildlife habitat, and maintains our rural heritage -- a good investment for future generations of farmers, ranchers and all Americans."
Conservation easements are voluntary agreements that allow landowners to limit development on their property while retaining ownership. The easements are designed to protect land in its undeveloped state and to preserve agricultural heritage and wildlife habitats for future generations.
Bennet's amendment clarifies the law within the newly consolidated Agricultural Lands Easement program to ensure that farmers and ranchers have more incentives and opportunities to enter into an easement agreement. For example, prior to the amendment, the bill targeted resources for easements to areas where farmland is "contiguous," which would bypass many places where farms and ranches may be concentrated, but are not strictly touching. The amendment allows those resources to now target areas with a high concentration of farm and ranchland.
As a member of the Agriculture Committee that crafted the bill, Bennet worked to simplify and enhance conservation easement agreements by consolidating the number of programs and adding flexibility that will allow more landowners and producers to enter into easements.
In April, Bennet visited Palisade, CO to celebrate the completion of several conservation easements in the area.