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Farmland protection technique comes to Illinois

July 1, 1993

Farmland protection technique comes to Illinois

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ROCKTON, IL—When Nina Langoussis came home to Winnebago County several years ago, she was dismayed to see multiple “for sale” signs on the 120-acre farm across the road from her parents’ home. Located at the headwaters of Sugar Creek, the farm’s oak-hickory woods, sand prairie fields and vernal pools, sheltering an abundance of threatened plants and animals, were about to be split up for housing.

Langoussis decided it was worth trying to save the former Abel farm from the sprawling development spilling over from Rockford. But in the absence of a state or county program to protect agricultural land, Langoussis was forced to start from scratch.

Now, after years of what her allies refer to as out-of-the box thinking and painstaking persistence, with state and local bureaucracy, Langoussis’ dream to protect the farm has become a reality. Thanks to collaboration between the Winnebago County Soil and Water Conservation District and American Farmland Trust, an agricultural conservation easement has been placed on the farm, using funds from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ Ecosystems Program to acquire and permanently retire the development rights to the property. The deal ensures that the farm will remain economically viable, while protecting critical habitat.

Purchase of development rights programs, which have proven records of success in other states, compensate farmers for keeping their land permanently available for agriculture. The seller receives the difference between the value of the land as farmland and what they would receive if it were sold for housing.

This is one of only a few times that Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) has purchased easements to protect agricultural land. The IDNR acquired the easement as part of the state’s Conservation 2000 program, which is receiving $11.7 million in new funding in Illinois Gov. George H. Ryan’s budget this year.

“The conservation easement for this parcel provides enhanced watershed protection, safeguards other natural resources and maintains an important corridor for wildlife,” said Director Brent Manning of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

“I wanted this farm—with its unique prairie, woods and wildlife—to be around for future generations,” said Nina Langoussis. “Knowing that this farm will be permanently protected and will serve as a model for future habitat and sustainable agriculture partnerships makes the effort worthwhile.”

The Winnebago County Soil and Water Conservation District will hold the easement and assume responsibility for monitoring the land to make sure that future owners uphold the terms of the agreement.

“We are proud to be part of this groundbreaking effort to protect the country’s productive farmland,” said

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Dwayne Proctor, chairman of the Winnebago County Soil and Water Conservation District board. “People turn to the Soil and Water Conservation District for help with traditional resource conservation issues. Few people know that we can also help with permanent land protection.”

The triangle of land between Chicago, Milwaukee and Madison is the third most threatened agricultural area in the nation. Its abundance of high-quality, productive farmland lies directly in the path of development leading out from communities like Rockford.

Illinois does not have a program dedicated to farmland protection.

“Illinois should pay more attention to the need for farmland preservation,” said Representative Dave Winters (R-District 69), who grows prairie grass and forbs on 80 acres of nearby farmland to help re-establish prairies. “I hope that in the future, more landowners will have the chance to follow the lead of Nina Langoussis and permanently protect their farms.”

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