Leaving land as a legacy in the Last Green Valley

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Regional - posted Mon., Apr. 22, 2013
Yale University's Shane Hetzler spoke about the Quiet Corner land preservation initiative on April 18. Photo by D. Coffey.
Yale University's Shane Hetzler spoke about the Quiet Corner land preservation initiative on April 18. Photo by D. Coffey.

The Morse House in the Yale-Myers Forest in Eastford was the site of a land legacy workshop on April 18. Landowners gathered to hear a presentation by Quiet Corner Initiative Coordinator Shane Hetzler, forester Steven Broderick with the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, attorney William Dakin, and Lindsay Michel, the Land Conservation director with the Connecticut Forest and Park Association. The goal of the workshop was to lay out a framework for those thinking about preserving their land, the issues involved in the process, and information about funding opportunities for doing so.

Broderick and his colleagues had come together to champion the cause of protecting land in The Last Green Valley from development. Eighty-percent of the forest and farm land in the TLGV, the stretch of 35 towns that follow the Quinebaug-Shetucket National Heritage Corridor, is privately owned. Without protection, that mosaic of land parcels could easily be transformed into something far different from what it is. The 500,000 acres that make up TLGV are part of a large ecosystem. Broderick, Yale University's Hetzler, and the state's forest and park association believe keeping that land intact and protected is vital. And it requires thoughtful consideration.

Broderick's aim was to help people clarify their thinking about whether and how to protect their property. His message: begin the process. With so many issues to consider, along with the ramifications of those decisions, time is of the essence. “The biggest enemy is procrastination,” he said.

“You have to ask yourself what you want protected,” he said. “Do you want to protect all the land or just portions of it? Who would you like to own it in the future? Do you want it to be working land? Do you want the public to have access to it? What are the financial issues involved?” 

If deciding objectives is complicated, talking with family about the land's future use can be even more difficult. “Talking with the family is often the biggest stumbling block,” Broderick said. Leaving land to an heir doesn't guarantee that the land will be protected. Spouses lives can change if they remarry. Heirs might not agree on how best to use the land. Leaving property to several heirs introduces the possibility of forced sales.

“You need to think long and hard about what you want,” attorney Bill Dakin told the crowd. “Things can change. Your beneficiaries may do what they wish with the land you bequeath to them.” Dakin went through probate, legal and tax implications of conservation. Making a list of assets and objectives is a necessary first step he said. Without doing that work, lawyers won't be able to help. He covered some of the benefits and drawbacks of deeds, wills, trusts and limited liability companies in terms of conservation goals and tax risks. “There is no cookie cutter approach,” he said.

Two federal funding programs and four state funding programs are available to qualified landowners. Information on municipal foundation and conservation funding sources were discussed briefly. Michel urged interested landowners to learn more about partner organizations in the area that might be able to help. 

Rich Dezso came to get information for a friend who inherited 150 acres just a few years ago. “He doesn't want to manage it. He has no heirs,” Dezso said. “He's thinking about selling a portion of it for his retirement. I'm here to see if there's something he can do with the land that he wants to retain.” Working with a land trust or selling easements were some of the possibilities.

On the opposite end of the spectrum was Susan Sibiga, an Ashford farmer who wants to preserve her land. The problem for her has been finding a right partnership with the organizations in the area. There are state and federal funding options that exist, but each has its own eligibility requirements. Sibiga's land includes forest and farmland. That combination, including total acreage and location didn't make her a good fit with the three organizations she'd looked into. “It's tough to find an organization that you're compatible with,” she said. “I'm trying though.” 

Organizations involved in conservation measures in the quiet corner include the Connecticut Forest and Parks Association, Wolf Den Land Trust, Joshua's Trust, Connecticut Farmland Trust, Nature Conservancy, Wyndham Land Trust, Northern Connecticut Land Trust and New Roxbury Land Trust.

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