Stewardship Program for Scenic Rivers

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Background

The South Carolina Scenic Rivers Program is charged to protect unique and outstanding rivers. Through a community planning approach, the program identifies and prioritizes river management needs and strives to protect resources including plant and animal life, wildlife habitat, wetlands, scenic views, geologic formations, recreation areas, and cultural or historic treasures. Riparian land management is an important element of river protection. The activities of each individual landowner can have positive or negative effects on river resources including aesthetic and scenic qualities, wildlife habitats, and water quality.

One of the primary goals of the Scenic Rivers Program is to build and maintain a land ethic or stewardship among river users and riparian landowners-- to instill or re-kindle a set of values for land and water management that will result in the protection of river resources. To accomplish this goal, the program works with landowners in a non regulatory framework to implement cooperative, voluntary land management agreements.

Historically, the SC Scenic Rivers Program focused on acquisition of management rights on river-bordering property as the primary means to protect river resources. The original policy regarding acquisition of management rights is outlined on page 10 of the administrative handbook (1991) as follows:

Generally, upon completion of the management plan, Commission staff, aided by the advisory council , will begin to seek management rights on riparian lands in the designated river corridor. Management rights may be acquired through three legislatively approved means:

  1. a donation of a perpetual conservation easement;
  2. a fee simple donation; or
  3. the purchase of fee simple interest in riparian properties.

These management options afford two major benefits to the landowner:

  1. long-term protection of the resource and
  2. financial gains associated with tax advantages and/or revenue from the sale of management rights or property.

In working with advisory councils and landowners on the Broad and lower Saluda rivers, program staff met with only limited success in acquiring land management rights by these means. The major obstacles to success were landowner mistrust of government and the restrictive nature of the management approach. All three options result in permanent and legally binding agreements whereby the Scenic Rivers Program assumes some degree of management authority. It is an extremely difficult decision for a landowner to forfeit private property rights on a permanent basis in exchange for resource protection in the absence of other incentives such as large financial benefits. To encourage wise land management and river protection, the Scenic Rivers Program has developed a new and more flexible approach targeted toward river users and riparian landowners-- the Scenic Rivers Stewardship Program.

The Scenic Rivers Stewardship Program

The two basic components of the Scenic Rivers Stewardship Program include education/ landowner contact and stewardship. Stewardship is defined as active land and water use management to protect the river and its natural, scenic, and cultural/historic features.

1. Education/Landowner Contact

Through the Scenic Rivers Stewardship Program, landowners and river users are provided basic information on "their" river with emphasis on the relationship between land/water use and the quality (short- and long term) of the resource. Essential tools for the education/landowner contact component include river-specific slide shows, a fact sheet on the respective land management options, and a list of common sense measures or best management practices (BMPs) to protect river resources. For each state-designated scenic river, program staff will develop a slide show that focuses on river-specific information such as outstanding and unique resources, river issues, and management plan recommendations. Each slide show will also include general information on land management options available to riparian landowners through the Scenic Rivers Stewardship Program.

To promote stewardship, project staff will meet with each riparian landowner one-on-one or in a small group setting to explain the program and how it could apply to the landowner's parcel(s). An effort will be made to build a relationship with the landowner that results in effective land management. Landowner response will be tracked over time.

2. Riparian Land Management

Once the landowner understands the function and values of the river, the next step is to select and implement a riparian land management strategy. This strategy may apply to all or a portion of a river-bordering parcel and/or to any parcel which falls within the river corridor. The width of the river corridor (measuring from the ordinary high water mark or the mean high water line on both sides of the river) is defined according to river classification: 300 to 500 feet for a natural river, 200 to 500 feet for a scenic river, and 100 to 500 feet for a recreational river.

To participate in the stewardship program, a landowner along a state designated scenic river enters a land management agreement with the SC Scenic Rivers Program. The landowner may choose among four land management options: land registration, a memorandum of agreement, a conservation easement, or donation of land.

When sufficient funds are available, a fifth option will be added to the stewardship component of the program: compensation for management rights or fee simple purchase. This will allow for the purchase of easement rights or property in cases where the landowner requires payment in return for management rights. Purchase of an easement or property will be considered a last resort.

The Scenic Rivers Stewardship Program was designed to provide a continuum of land management options in terms of timeframe of commitment (one generation versus "in perpetuity"); degree of program involvement in land management (i.e., technical assistance, monitoring, etc.); and legal enforceability. Descriptions of the respective land management options follow:

A. Land Registration: A landowner may choose to register river-bordering land or land within a defined river corridor in the Scenic Rivers Land Registry. Land registration involves a simple, written agreement between the landowner and the Scenic Rivers Program.

Land Registration Form

Terms:

  • The landowner agrees to manage land in concert with scenic river goals.
  • The landowner promises to give notice of any change in land ownership, major change(s) in land use, or known threats to the resouse.
  • Responsibility for land management rests solely with the landowner.
  • Project staff contact the landowner on an annual basis to answer any questions or obtain updates.
  • Land registration is a voluntary and non-binding agreement (not legally enforceable).

Benefits to Landowner:

  • The agreement provides protection for the river and its resources while preserving the rights of the landowner.
  • The landowner receives information on the project including invitations to special events and activities.
  • The landowner is recognized by the SC Scenic Rivers Program with a certificate signed by the Executive Director of the Department of Natural Resources and Manager of the SC Scenic Rivers Program as well as listing in SC River News

NOTE: There are no tax benefits due to the temporary and non-binding nature of the agreement. Registration is considered a temporary agreement because land ownership changes over time. In order to receive tax benefits, there must be a commitment to manage the land according to program goals in perpetuity.

B. Memorandum of Agreement: A memorandum of agreement (MOA), signed by a landowner and the Scenic Rivers Program, acts as a statement of intent. The MOA outlines recommended best management practices (BMPs) for implementation on river-bordering land. The BMPs act as a model for the landowner to follow in order to protect resource values. The BMPs focus on the protection of scenic values, water quality, and wildlife habitat. A landowner may tailor the MOA to meet his/her specific management objectives.

MOA Form

Terms:

  • The MOA outlines land management guidelines and best management practices which are consistent with scenic river classification guidelines and management plan recommendations. The landowner agrees to manage his/her property in accordance with these BMPs.
  • To some degree, land management guidelines/BMPs can be tailored for the specific situation/property.
  • The landowner promises to give notice of any change in land ownership, major change in land use, or known threats to the resource.
  • Responsibility for land management rests solely with the landowner.
  • Project staff are available to provide technical guidance.
  • Project staff meet with the landowner on an annual basis (may include a site visit).
  • The agreement is voluntary and non-binding (not legally enforceable).
  • The agreement is not binding on successive landowners.
  • The agreement may be terminated with a 30-day written notice from the landowner.

Benefits to Landowner:

  • The agreement provides protection for the river and its resources while preserving the rights of the landowner.
  • The landowner receives technical guidance on land management from resource professionals.
  • The landowner receives information on the project including invitations to special events and activities.
  • The landowner is recognized by the SC Scenic Rivers Program with a certificate signed by the Governor of South Carolina and the Executive Director of the Department of Natural Resources as well as listing in SC River News.

NOTE: There are no tax benefits due to the temporary nature of the agreement. The memorandum of agreement is considered a temporary agreement because land ownership changes over time. In order to receive tax benefits, there must be a commitment to manage the land according to program goals in perpetuity.

C. Conservation Easement: A conservation easement is a legally recorded and permanent land management agreement between the landowner and the SC Scenic Rivers Program. Similar to the MOA, the conservation easement is based on management guidelines and recommended best management practices; however, the easement agreement is binding and permanent. The land management guidelines are based on the level of development in the river corridor.

Explanation of Easements

Terms:

  • The easement agreement outlines land management guidelines and best management practices which are consistent with scenic river classification guidelines and management plan recommendations. The landowner agrees to manage his/her property in accordance with these guidelines and BMPs.
  • The landowner must give notice of any change in land ownership, major change in land use, or known threats to the resource.
  • To some degree, land management guidelines can be tailored for the specific situation/property.
  • Easements can be written to accommodate the wishes and intent of the landowner and can allow the landowner a great deal of flexibility in future use of the property.
  • An easement does not preclude any uses of the property (at the time of the initial signing) that the landowner wishes to keep.
  • Ownership is retained by the landowner.
  • Responsibility for land management rests solely with the landowner.
  • Project staff are available to provide technical guidance.
  • Project staff meet with the landowner on an annual basis. This meeting may include a site visit to monitor the property for compliance with the agreement.
  • The agreement is voluntary, but legally binding and enforceable.
  • The agreement is permanent and binding on successive landowners.
  • A conservation easement can be altered or terminated with the mutual consent of the SC Scenic Rivers Program and the current landowner.
  • The property may be passed on to heir(s), given to family members, or sold.

Benefits to Landowner:

  • A conservation easement provides permanent protection for the river and its resources.
  • The landowner receives technical guidance on land management from resource professionals.
  • The landowner may realize income, property, and/or estate tax benefits.
  • The landowner receives information on the project including invitations to special events and activities.
  • The landowner is recognized by the SC Scenic Rivers Program with a certificate signed by the Governor of South Carolina and the Executive Director of the Department of Natural Resources; listing in SC River News; recognition at the annual meeting; and a matted/framed photograph of the river.

D. Donation of Land: The landowner grants title to the land to the SC Scenic Rivers Program.

Terms:

  • Land management guidelines are consistent with classification guidelines and management plan recommendations.
  • Management responsibility belongs to the SC Scenic Rivers Program.
  • If property is not managed for the purpose for which it was donated, the title to the land reverts to the donor.
  • Donation of land is voluntary and legally-binding.

Benefits to Landowner:

  • The agreement provides permanent protection for the river and its resources.
  • A landowner with no heirs can ensure that the land is managed for river protection beyond his/her lifetime.
  • The landowner receives information on the project including invitations to special events and activities.
  • The landowner may realize income, property, and/or estate tax benefits.
  • The landowner is recognized by the SC Scenic Rivers Program with a certificate signed by the Governor of South Carolina and the Executive Director of the Department of Natural Resources; listing in SC River News; recognition at the annual meeting; and a matted/framed photograph of the river.

Implementation Strategy

Each scenic river advisory council will develop a river-specific stewardship plan. For all state-designated scenic rivers, the primary goal is to achieve 100 percent landowner participation through land registration. Landowners will be encouraged to consider other stewardship options which include specific management guidelines and provide for long-term resource protection. The advisory councils will identify areas of special significance for additional protection through memoranda of agreement, conservation easements, and/or donation of land. Priority areas for protection include large, undisturbed tracts; scenic vistas; areas of ecological significance; unique or outstanding habitat; intact riparian buffer areas; special recreation sites; geologic features; and cultural/historic sites.

Land registration and the memorandum of agreement are considered to be steppingstones to the conservation easement. Over time, the Scenic Rivers Program will work toward permanent protection for entire river corridors.

For information on ways to protect it, write:
S.C. Scenic Rivers Program
SC Department of Natural Resources
P.O. Box 167
Columbia, SC 29202
803-734-9100

(e-mail: marshallb@dnr.sc.gov)

 

 

 


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