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Published February 04, 2013, 10:30 AM

Leave easement law alone

A cap on the number of years for conservation easements in South Dakota is too restrictive

By: Argus Leader, Sioux Falls, S.D., Agweek

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Forever certainly is a long time.

But so far, perpetuity has worked when it comes to South Dakota landowners signing conservation easements.

This year, lawmakers will again look at that set up when they debate the state’s business in the capitol. House Bill 1007, one of two proposals to emerge from a summer committee that studied how farmland is valued, would cap any conservation easements at 30 years.

The easements are voluntary and typically restrict how land can be used. Sen. Jason Frerichs, D-Wilmot, is a co-sponsor of limiting the length of easements to 30 years because it prevents future landowners from doing what they want and complicates how land is valued for taxes.

But we think allowing landowners to have conservation easements set up for perpetuity is one of the very reasons they would do it.

That’s the right of today’s landowner, if he or she chooses, to put land into conservation forever or for however many years are chosen. When that land is sold or passed down to heirs, there is full disclosure that the acres are in a conservation easement. No one is cheated out of understanding that up front.

Legislation to restrict easements has been introduced, considered and defeated in the past. Bringing the issue up again seems to be tinkering with something that isn’t broken.

We favor leaving the laws on easements alone so that if landowners want to put their acres into conservation easements forever, they have that option. It’s a flawed effort to try to restrict that right.