Land Acquisition Policy
The park can take shape over decades.
The creation of Driftless National Park & Preserve will require an extensive effort of land acquisition to be undertaken by the proposed land acquisition committee. This process would not be immediate, taking place over an extended period as land ownership changes. That said, there are multiple methods to go about achieving this acquisition goal. These avenues include straight acquisition, conservation easements, a countryside initiative program, or other types of rental agreements. These are all detailed below. The future park would likely be a mix of all of these avenues.
As a reminder, this proposal forbids eminent domain in the park, and buying into the creation of the park would be optional for local land owners and their families into future generations. With the proper incentives, the park would take shape over time.
Straight Land Acquisition
The most straight-forward method of land acquisition for the park is to simply acquire it outright. This involves buying the property, or part of the property, from the owner for a negotiated price. The land acquisition committee would oversee and execute this process.
It should be noted that all of the economical analysis performed later in this proposal assumes straight land acquisition for the calculations, but that is unlikely to be the reality.
The Countryside Initiative Program
The Countryside Initiative Program is a cooperation utilized in Ohio’s Cuyahoga Valley National Park, where farmers are selected for leases on farms within the park as a way to promote the cultural heritage of the area. Selected farmers must adhere to strict sustainability practices.
We propose that this initiative also be utilized in a Driftless NP&P to some capacity. After straight land acquisition of a farm property, the NPS (or other public ownership entity at the time of acquisition), the farm property could be leased back to the previous land owner at low-cost within the countryside initiative program if the previous land owner has expressed interest and proved capability to farm sustainably. This method allows continued residence and agriculture, and can reduce the cost of acquisition of parklands. Below is a summary of the countryside initiative from NPS Cuyahoga Valley.
(From NPS) Surrounded by the history of the valley's early farmers, modern families carry on agricultural traditions, while also introducing their own specialized practices. In order to preserve the valley's pastoral landscape and protect both natural and cultural resources, the National Park Service developed a program called the Countryside Initiative. This program invites farmers to lease land and farm in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. The Countryside Initiative program balances the needs of the land and farmer, who must follow strict guidelines for sustainable farm management.
The Countryside Initiative program began in 1999 to rehabilitate approximately 20 picturesque old farms that operated in the valley from the mid-19th to the mid-20th century. As agriculture disappeared from the valley in the 20th century, these farms fell into disrepair. Through the Countryside Initiative program, the National Park Service celebrates farming and healthy land practices that help both the farmers and land.
While farming in a national park is an unconventional idea in America, that is not the case elsewhere in the world. In Great Britain, for example, over 90% of national park land is privately owned. Not only is it considered natural and normal to live within the park boundaries, farming is considered the only practical way to maintain the openness, beauty, and diversity of the countryside.
Conservation easements are legally binding agreements between property owners and a conservation organization over the use of land. The ownership and right of use of the property is maintained, but the easement land must be used in a certain way towards conservation goals. In this case, that goal would be to the greater ecological and recreational health of a Driftless NP&P. Conservation easements will allow some continued residence on the park, and bring down the cost of acquisition. Many conservation easements are already in place within the proposed Driftless NP&P area, and are taken into account in the economic calculations as public land (despite being privately owned).
(From Ducks Unlimited) A conservation easement is a legal agreement between a property owner, the donor and a qualified conservation organization or agency, or the holder, in which the owner voluntarily agrees to restrict the type and amount of development that may take place on his or her property. A conservation easement is a way to preserve property that has a conservation or historic value while keeping the property in its natural and undeveloped state and still maintaining ownership of the property. The owner also keeps the right to use property for economic gain or recreation and the right to sell or deed the property to another. A donation of a conservation easement also may reduce estate, income and property taxes.
Potential Rental Agreements
In certain cases when the countryside initiative program is insufficient, other rental agreements can be procured. These agreements can be flexible on a case by case basis.
Land fully acquired by the land acquisition committee, either at a full or reduced price, can be leased back to the previous owner. The length of this lease can vary, and come with an expiration date by which the previous owner must vacate the property to the committee, state, or NPS.
The land acquisition committee can pay a landowner for future rights and ownership of the property for a reduced price. In this agreement, the committee, state, or NPS will pay the owner a lump sum for future rights and ownership of the property at a specified date. This date can be either directly stated, or can be more arbitrary - like whenever the owner decides to move or passes away. Until this time, the owner can do with their property whatever they please. The owner would not be allowed to transfer the property to any other person or entity other than the park entity that the agreement was made with.
Land can also be incrementally acquired. In this case, the land acquisition committee, state, or NPS can enter into agreement with a land owner where ownership of set segments of the original owner’s land are transferred towards the park on an annual basis. This allows the original owner to wean themselves off the property over a set time period. The terms and compensation of this agreement would be drawn up either all at once, or at multiple times over the course of the agreement.
All of these methods would allow continued residence within the park for some time and bring the cost down, while still ensuring that the park is fully realized over time.