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County land trust leader sees more easements, more members on the horizon

Even Nevada County politics couldn’t stop new Nevada County Land Trust President Dave Palley from his quest to preserve green space in the Sierra.

Twenty years ago, Palley was one of the founders of the trust to protect agriculture, habitat and green space in Nevada County with conservation and working agriculture easements. Now, he is the new board president, hoping to reinvigorate the nonprofit organization by expanding membership and adding more easements.

“Most land trusts arise out of controversy,” Palley said. “This one formed when a bunch of people got together for Earth Day in 1990.



“Someone said, ‘other places have land trusts,’ so we started talking about it, and we took our time.

“We wanted a cross-section of the community. We didn’t want to be perceived as pro- or anti-development, or left or right,” Palley said. “We knew there were private landowners with conservation goals, and there were ways to help them achieve them.




“My motivation for joining was in honor of my father, who was a conservationist and planning commissioner here,” Palley said.

Marshall Palley was also a forestry professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and had introduced his son to Nevada County in the 1960s.

In 1989, the younger Palley moved his law practice here and started forming the trust with friends the next year. He left the group in 2003 when he didn’t like the direction the group was taking with the North Star House.

At that time, a controversy surrounded former Nevada County Supervisor Bruce Conklin. Late in 2002, Conklin voted to give $508,000 to the trust to manage the project to renovate the North Star House, designed by architect Julia Morgan for the mine’s owner.

Several months later after leaving office, Conklin was hired by the trust to handle the same project. Public accusations of conflict ensued.

“I decided to come back in 2008” after faces changed and the matter blew over, Palley said. He became vice president last year and is now on a quest to boost the membership from its current 700 people.

“I think we can get 1,000 to join,” Palley said.

To become a member, call the trust at (530) 272-5994 or visit the Web: http://www.NevadaCountyLandTrust.org. Yearly membership is $35 and $25 for individuals with low income.

Palley also wants to obtain more conservation easements from landowners to help build green space for the county and for the Bear River Partnership. It’s a new coalition made up of people with land on both sides of the Bear River that borders southern Nevada County, the Nevada and Placer county land trusts and the national Trust for Public Lands.

The idea is to get conservation easements “from Auburn to Oroville.”

“You restrict development with conservation easements for land that has value to the public for farmland, wildlife habitat, forest, history and recreation,” Palley said.

If people want to keep their land as-is for generations, “they give us the conservation easement,” Palley added.

Land owners could get tax breaks because they are keeping the property as green space and not opening it up for development, decreasing its commercial worth.

“It also makes state tax rates lower,” Palley said. “The landowner still owns the property, and he can sell it, but it remains under the conservation easement.”

Palley is seeking even more lands through a new program called Strategic Land Acquisition Fund.

It would allow the trust to help people pay the costs for a conservation easement, which often includes a two-stage appraisal that can cost between $6,000 to $8,000.

“We’re trying to make it less of an inhibitor to donate, especially for those in lower tax brackets,” Palley said. “We have $50,000 to seed the fund, and we’re searching for another $50,000.”

In return for the conservation easements, the trust agrees to be watchdog of the land, Palley said.

Another goal for the new trust leader is to bolster its financial foundation.

“We’d like to have people think about us in their wills and trusts,” Palley said.

“It’s an appropriate way to pass rural beauty and open space on to the future.”

To get their message across to financial planners, accountants and lawyers, the trust held a program Wednesday entitled, “Conservation Easements: Strategies and Tax Benefits.”

The main speaker was William T. Hutton, a nationally recognized expert in land preservation aspects, who told owners how to save their land and tax dollars simultaneously with easements.

For more information on the program or the land trust in general, call Jean Gilbert at (530) 272-5994, ext. 4.

To contact Senior Staff Writer Dave Moller, e-mail dmoller@theunion.com or call (530) 477-4237.


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