February 28, 2001 11:00 pm

Farm families whose property may be threatened by development have a new tool to preserve their land.

The Blue Mountain Trust of Walla Walla works with landowners to develop conservation easements that can prevent the land from being developed as subdivisions or other types of urbanized use.

Jim Swayne, president of the trust, came to La Grande earlier this week to talk about ways to create conservation easements.

Were seeing some interest in your area, Swayne said after his return to Walla Walla. Some farms are feeling threatened by development.

The trust, founded in 1999, has created one conservation easement on about 60 acres, but Swayne said several others are being negotiated.

One property owner with three separate ranches of more than 1,000 acres is talking to us, he said.

The Blue Mountain Trust, a non-profit corporation, can accept donations of easements from property owners. Certain mutually agreed upon restrictions allow the landowner to continue farming and using the land as he wishes, but prohibit urban development, Swayne said.

When the landowner donates the easement, his donation is tax deductible, which provides landowners with low cash assets a tax break.

Swayne said the landowner gets two tax benefits.

You get a charitable donation credit that takes care of current taxes, he said. When you grant a conservation easement you can reduce the value of your property and reduce the estate tax.

Conservation easements may be granted for several reasons.

Sometimes people want to preserve a wildlife habitat, and they want schools and students to go in to the area; so, they give up their trespass rights, he said.

Landowners with easements may sell or bequeath their property, but the easement goes with the land, Swayne said.

People interested in investigating the trust may call Swayne at 509-525-7683 or 509-520-1252, or visit the trusts Web site at