What would you do with my land?
by Cheri Grauer
Easing my car down the long, graveled lane, I sensed this was a place that had been well-loved—last spring’s calves stood stolidly behind straight, sturdy fences; outbuildings all looked to be in good repair; and the farmhouse tucked neatly into the south side of the hill appeared to have a lot of life left in it. A carefully kept pasture hemmed the farmstead on three sides. On this March day, the field in the background sported only corn stubble. Beyond the field stretched a mature timber.
A place that had obviously been well-loved. And now the two people in whose care it had been for forty years were beginning to think out loud about their concern for its future. “What would you do with our land if we were to donate it?” they asked as we sat talking at the kitchen table, late afternoon sun pouring through yellow curtains that opened out onto fields, woods and sky.
On any given day, men and women can be found at their kitchen tables contemplating their land’s future. Their places, too, are well-loved.
In some instances these are people who have no heirs—or no heirs to whom they’d choose to entrust the care of their land. In other cases, logging, mining, agribusiness or development interests that could dramatically alter the character of their land might be waiting just outside the door for the announcement of an impending sale. Or maybe it’s as simple as landowners having a vision for the land—for its fields and its woods—and an accompanying desire to find someone who will and can work with them to achieve that vision.
The Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation staff is always honored to be invited to kitchen tables as these interests, concerns and goals are given voice. We bring to the table a willingness to both listen to and work with landowners as they sort through the options for their land’s future.
One thing we can promise: If a property is suitable for donation to INHF and we accept it with the condition it will be protected, it will be protected. But landowners often have more options than they realize on how it will be protected.
“Protection can be attained in a variety of ways,” says Mark Ackelson, INHF president. “Sometimes the best option is for INHF to permanently own a donated property, especially if it has significant natural features or significant stewardship needs. In other cases public ownership—which provides not only protection but also public use and enjoyment— is the best option.”
It’s important, however, for prospective donors to know that permanent ownership by INHF or by a public entity doesn’t exhaust the protection options. Private ownership, whereby INHF transfers a property to a private conservation buyer with appropriate protective measures in place, represents another option.
“Really, the most critical part of this process is the conversation between a prospective donor and INHF staff,” notes Ackelson. “Having this conversation is the only way we can be certain that a property is suitable for donation to INHF and be reasonably sure that we understand and can honor the donor’s wishes.”
Though not all land is appropriate for donation to INHF, we generally are in the position to accept farms that have some good natural features and—if there’s an expectation that INHF own it long-term—have either enough income-producing land to support the whole or are accompanied by an endowment.
“As you’d expect, there are costs associated with our owning and managing land,” says INHF Land Stewardship Director Joe McGovern. “So if a potential donation of land has no income producing capability, we may ask that the landowner provide for an endowment to help cover the costs of necessary restoration, land management and infrastructure maintenance.”
If the land does not align with INHF’s needs and mission, staff will try to guide potential donors to a more appropriate recipient.
“We know how strong the bond can be between people and the land for which they’ve cared,” says Ackelson. “INHF can help protect and perpetuate that bond.”
Cheri Grauer is INHF’s Gift Planner. You can talk with her by phoning 800-475-1846.