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Easement story sells readers short

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As a colorful portrait of a controversial, charismatic guy who likes horsepower, caffeine and litigation, two thumbs up to Ray Ring’s "Write-off on the Range" (HCN, 5/30/05: Write-off on the Range). As a piece of investigative journalism providing a useful, balanced look at conservation easements, the piece falls far short of HCN’s usually high standards.

Ring touches on some important issues in passing, but rather than delve into questions that merit discussion, he indulges his desire to write a snappy portrait of Rosenthal and raise hot-button class issues. Rich outsiders have outbid working folks for choice land and newcomers have locked out traditional users for generations. These are important topics, but are these really conservation easement issues?

Ring’s assertion that conservation "easements still enjoy broad political support because they don’t impose government regulations, and because the wealthy people who enjoy the tax benefits give money to both parties" may be appropriate in an editorial. But even there, the remark deserves strong rebuke: Conservation easements enjoy tremendous support because they work, and they offer many communities the best chance to preserve cherished open lands.

The article would have served readers far better had Ring dug into loose regulations regarding easement appraisals and the lack of enforcement or stiff penalties for those who abuse rules. Similarly, Ring could have looked at what is being done to prevent sham conservation groups from springing up. Instead, HCN devotes more ink to Mr. Rosenthal’s pickup truck and eating habitats than it does to Rock Ringling, who is the only land trust official quoted in the story.

Unfortunately, conservation easements are boring. Watching the process of negotiation, due diligence and closing is like looking at paint dry. But this is no excuse for HCN to ignore issues that merit examination.

Rob Bleiberg
Executive Director, Mesa Land Trust
Grand Junction, Colorado

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