Thursday, April 25, 2024
52.0°F

Prairie Preservation 101

by MADISON HARDY
Staff Writer | December 11, 2020 1:00 AM

Preserving the prairie has been on Kootenai County residents' hearts and minds for years.

Now, through a guide released by the county's Planning and Zoning Commission, that land could be protected forever.

A conservation easement is a voluntary, legally binding agreement between landowners and nonprofit conservation organizations that can restrict future development. By donating specific rights to the organization, property owners can protect their natural resources and land practices like farming or forestry.

Landowner easement applications are just one of eight projects laid out by the Planning and Zoning Commission, the guide on KeepingKootenai.com says. The project aligns closely with the 2020 Comprehensive Plan's objective to foster rural and community character through public resources, forestry agriculture, and low-intensity development.

"If you go back and look at the policy commissioners adopted, it encouraged the preservation of the open space and farmland that makes Kootenai County so fabulous," Kootenai County Community Development Director David Callahan said.

The property title would remain with the landowner, who would still be responsible for paying county taxes and related assessments. Depending on the land's farm or ranch designation qualification, however, property donors could deduct from 50% to 100% of their annual income for 15 to 16 years, the guide says.

Some of the policies within that objective are to encourage voluntary retention of open space and enable rural property owners "reasonable economic opportunities" to use their land and influence subdivision development. Conservation easements are just one means to do so by protecting natural resources and enhancing farms or timberland.

"It's very common practice amongst environmentally conscious people that don't want to see their land cut up for development," Callahan said. "If you're conserving land in unincorporated counties or cities, conservation easements guide growth to where it best fits on the land."

Growth has significantly affected the Rathdrum Prairie area, which has the most potential for dense development and has been rapidly depleted by housing and commercial units.

"Most of the new growth will happen inside the existing cities on the Rathdrum Prairie," the 2020 Comprehensive Plan says. "The Plan also envisions protecting the undeveloped portion of the prairie to be reserved for future city annexation and to minimize the need for redevelopment."

There are about 900 non-residential lots within Kootenai County, which total about 7,635 acres, according to the 2020 Plan. With over half of those non-residential lots located on the Rathdrum Prairie, designating a large portion of it as open space would permanently protect its traditional agricultural use and resources.

"There's not any more farmland being made. Once the best agricultural land is gone, it's gone forever," Callahan said. "We're growing faster than we ever have in the unincorporated county, and all that growth is on the large lots out there, not the minimum size lots in the city."

Info: KeepingKootenai.com and 208-446-1070. Printed copies are available from the Community Development Department, 451 N. Government Way.