Interest in Conservation Easements in Oklahoma Grows

Article excerpt

When Firestone closed its Dayton Tire facility six years ago, the company gave 60 acres to the Western Heights School District in the western Oklahoma City metro area.

The donation provided tax benefits, and the company promoted the action as a gesture of appreciation for the schools that taught many of its workers' children; the company still refers to the green space on its corporate website years later. The land was left largely undeveloped except as a small wildlife preserve for student activities. This year, the district opened its new Bridgestone Intermediate Center school on 20 of those acres.

The remaining 40 acres, however, are a good example of a growing trend of conservation against commercial and residential development, said Jeff Crosby at the Tulsa-based nonprofit organization Land Legacy.

Setting aside land to lie fallow as a conservation easement is usually tax-deductible for appraised fair market value, other experts in the field said. Easements offer an economically practical alternative to development by compensating landowners for the profits they might otherwise garner from building. Crosby said some landowners even use easements as estate planning tools for property owners passing their assets on to the next generation.

"In Oklahoma, roughly 30,000 acres of open lands are lost annually, and that rate is increasing," said Terry Bidwell, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension specialist and professor of natural resource ecology and management. "Often the most productive lands nearest our communities and the lands most valued for conservation and wildlife are under the most intense threat of development. …