A stone monument behind Gertie and Wes Hanson’s hilltop home memorializes the family philosophy in four simple words: Walk this land gently.
While the Hansons walk the earth, their Blackwell Hill farm will be cared for like a precious family member.
And once they’re gone, the stone monument will serve as a reminder to future generations. Just in case someone forgets, the family has solidified its creed in legal documents to protect the land as long as possible.
A conservation easement granted to the little-known Inland Northwest Land Trust is the tool the family is using to preserve 160 acres of paradise.
The easement, signed last month, will prevent development even if the deed to the land changes hands.
Such easements are becoming increasingly popular around the nation but seldom are exercised in Idaho.
“Basically, it was because our parents never wanted the farm divided,” Gertie Hanson explained.
The farm had been in the family since 1902, when Gertie Hanson’s grandfather, Joseph E. Carder, went into partnership with a man named Caldwell. Caldwell had homesteaded the property a year earlier, but “I never got the sense that Mr. Caldwell lived here,” Hanson said.
Eventually, Carder bought out Caldwell’s share of the property.
In 1907, Carder wrote a letter of proposal to Hanson’s grandmother-to-be in Missouri, saying he wished he could send her all the wildflowers growing on his hill.
Instead, Gertrude Carder came to Blackwell Hill and had two sons with Joseph Alvis and Hiram. Alvis is Gertie Hanson’s father.
“Things were real tough in those days,” Gertie Hanson said. “He had one horse. But they had enough to eat. They had a garden.”
Hanson still gardens the same patch of ground - fertilized with manure and still producing a wealth of vegetables. They still hay their 25-acre meadow, but homestead’s log horse barn is no longer in use.
This summer, a logger using horses has been taking out timber damaged by last year’s ice storm. He put off hauling some logs to avoid disturbing a nesting bird, an act that endeared him to the Hansons.
While the easement allows for continued haying and logging, restrictions are written into the document to protect one of the primary values of the land - wildlife habitat.
The many acres of woods, the meadow and a small wetland support a variety of wildlife and provide a corridor from the Spokane River southwest toward Blossom Mountain, Cougar Gulch and Mica Peak. On Thursday, the Hansons spooked a coyote hunting mice in the meadow.
“The bears that live on the hill, they were here when I was a kid,” Hanson said. Still surviving, too, are a couple patches of Mountain Ladyslippers, wildflowers that are becoming less common with each passing year.
Board members of the Inland Northwest Land Trust visited the property three times since last winter to create an inventory of what the land contains. The trust will use the data to monitor the easement.
While the easement is perhaps one of the most personal conservation acts the Hansons have performed, it’s hardly the only one.
Wes and Gertie Hanson have been fixtures at city and county planning commission meetings in recent years as development loomed over Cougar Bay and Blackwell Island.
The two fought for preservation of wildlife habitat in Cougar Bay, and opposed the planned RV park on Blackwell Island. With the approval of the park and the city’s annexation of Blackwell Island, the Hansons fear that development of their surroundings is more than just a possibility.
“It’s just that now the threat is certainly a lot greater,” Hanson said.
That threat didn’t drive her to seek a conservation easement, however. It’s something she’s pursued since the early ‘80s, when her mother made her wishes clear. Gertie Hanson, her two brothers, and their children agreed.
But it was several years before they could find the right outfit to do the job. The Spokane-based Inland Northwest Land Trust didn’t form until 1991.
The first land trust in the country was formed in 1891 in Massachusetts, said Chris Herrman, director of the Northwest regional office of the Land Trust Alliance.
Now there are 1,200 land trusts nationwide protecting more than 5 million acres. Herrman said the Carder farm conservation easement is a common scenario.
A conservation easement is a better tool for protecting property than a deed restriction, Herrman said, because a “slick lawyer” could come along and figure out a way to eliminate a deed restriction.
Not only that, but conservation easements carry with them important tax benefits.
Because the easement limits use of the land, the appraised value is lower and the difference in value can be written off as a charitable gift to the land trust. Moreover, new laws allow landowners with conservation easements to exempt up to 40 percent of the value of their estate.
So now the Hanson’s can rest easy that their children and grandchildren can afford to inherit the farm, with its old log horse barn, the garden patch and the engraved stone that carries a gentle reminder.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 photos (1 color)