Land trust would have helped Givan ensure his dream

On Nov. 16, the Tribune ran an editorial about property along the Rogue River that would be turned into a public park if a land swap can take place. Charley Givan, who owned the property and sold it to the county in 1972, had intended for the property to remain a park forever. Unfortunately, those wishes were not recorded with the title to the property when it was transferred. He also took steps in the years following his death 25 years ago made that wish difficult to fulfill — until now.

Landowners today have choices that Givan didn't have in 1972. Today, they can ensure that their wishes for their land can indeed last beyond their lifetime. Since the early 1980s, landowners in Oregon and other states have been able to use a conservation agreement to protect their property forever. A conservation agreement, legally known as a conservation easement, between a land trust and a landowner guarantees that land can remain as park land, or farmland or forestland if that is the landowner's wish.

These agreements are flexible yet powerful tools that can help communities retain the unique character of their landscape. In addition, they offer individuals a way to ensure that the dreams for their land are upheld without having to sell their property. The land can be owned, managed, sold or passed along to heirs, while the outstanding conservation values of the property are protected in perpetuity.

Our state and federal governments, recognizing the value of conserving private lands, granted authority to community land trusts to negotiate permanent conservation agreements. They also provide federal income and property tax incentives as additional benefits to those who make these voluntary commitments.

In our region, the Southern Oregon Land Conservancy is the regional land trust assisting landowners and communities to preserve what is truly unique about their land. It was the first land trust to form in Oregon; 11 other regional land trusts now serve different parts of the state from the Wallowas to the coast.

Since 1978, the Southern Oregon Land Conservancy has protected more than 8,300 acres of unique land in Southern Oregon (about twice the size of the City of Ashland). Of those acres, 428 acres are park lands in Jacksonville and Ashland. These lands offer trails for hiking and biking and habitat for an array of wildlife. A conservation agreement on city-owned park land ensures that the land will always remain a park with public access despite changes in political will.

Private landowners can also conserve their lands to provide habitat, scenic views and natural open areas that benefit us all. And important farm, forest and ranch lands are conserved in a similar way. In the United States, 47 million acres across our diverse and beautiful landscape are protected by land trusts. You can find out more about your local land trust by visiting landconserve.org.

If Charley Givan had been able to work with a land trust back in 1972, his land would still be the park he envisioned. Let's hope his wish is realized today.

Diane Garcia is executive director of the Southern Oregon Land Conservancy (landconserve.org).

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