Facts about conservation easements in Nebraska.
Western Meadowlark. Photo: Evan Barrientos/Audubon
Conservation and agricultural land easements are a voluntary, free-market, incentive-based approach to the permanent conservation of natural, agricultural, and historical resources on private land. With a conservation and agricultural land easement, the owner voluntarily restricts future uses of their land (like development) and relies on the organization to monitor the land and enforce the easement's provisions if necessary.
According to state statute 76-2,111, easements have the purpose of “retaining or protecting the property in its natural, scenic, or open condition, assuring its availability for agricultural, horticultural, forest, recreational, wildlife habitat or open space for use, protecting air quality, water quality, or other natural resources, or for such other conservation purpose.”
Currently, less than 1%, or specifically 0.35% of Nebraska is under a conservation and agricultural land easement. On average, Nebraska only adds roughly 5000 acres of conservation and agricultural land easement land per year at a rate of only 0.0001% per year of Nebraska’s total acres.
Many conservation and agricultural land easement projects are made possible by federal funding that is available to land trusts that purchase perpetual easements. Unfortunately, this federal cost-share is limited to 50% to 75% and many in agriculture cannot afford to donate the remainder. In Nebraska, the Nebraska Environmental Trust has been able to provide non-federal matching funds through competitive grants which level the playing field for interested landowners.