Maine prides itself on its tradition of family farms, but many of those farms — and the undeveloped acreage they cover — are in jeopardy. Many older landowners find it difficult to convince their children to take over the year-round commitment of running a farm. Some families cannot afford the inheritance taxes that come with passing land from one generation to another.
A resource in Maine is making that transition easier by providing a wealth of information to landowners. Considering a conservation easement on your land? The Resources First Foundation has links to land trusts, lawyers and estate planners. Thinking of installing windmills on your land to generate electricity and a little extra income? The foundation can point you in the right direction.
For landowners, the Yarmouth-based foundation, is, at its core, a vast collection of information. Its Private Landowner Network Web site, www.privatelandowernetwork.org, is the first comprehensive collection of this information and it is searchable, making it easy to find specific information quickly. Through this site, and others focused on taxes and conservation, information on local, state and federal resources is at landowners’ fingertips.
According to the foundation, about 70 percent of land in the United States is in private hands. Therefore ownership changes can easily imperil wildlife habitat, open space, access and other public benefits from this land.
At the same time, the majority of conservation efforts and funding focus on public land, leaving farms, tree lots and other undeveloped parcels vulnerable.
The Maine Farmland Trust estimates that up to 400,000 acres of Maine’s best farmland will be in transition in the next 10 years, as aging farmland owners either die or need to sell. Much of this farmland will likely be lost to development, the foundation worries.
The volume of electronic traffic on the landowner network web site indicates that many landowners are looking for ways to preserve their land rather than sell it. The site has registered more than 20 million hits. A Maine version, www.stateconservation.org/maine, has had more than 50,000 hits.
Meeting this demand with useful information is critical. The network Web site, for example, explains conservation easements, shows how a provision of the 2008 Farm Bill extends tax benefits for such preservation, and provides links to local groups, attorneys, accountants and others that can help landowners develop easements. Similar links are available for energy conservation and green building, two growing areas of interest.
By collecting all this information in one place, the foundation can help farmers, woodlot owners and others with large parcels of land make better decisions about the future of their property.