Whiterock Conservancy Accepts Soil Health Conservation Easements

In August, Whiterock Conservancy enters a new chapter as we begin to accept donated conservation easements from landowners who want to ensure specific conservation practices and soil health management will continue on their land long after the ground has transferred ownership.


       Conservation easements are permanent agreements made between landowners and conservation organizations that allow a landowner to maintain ownership and control of the land while voluntarily giving up rights to actions that could damage the land. This permanent agreement applies to any future landowner as well, creating lasting protection. The conservation organization that holds the easement ensures current and future owners continue to meet the conservation vision of the landowners who established the conservation easement.

       The first conservation easements Whiterock Conservancy will accept are being donated to Whiterock Conservancy by the Garst Family as their generational farmland is sold at auction. The easements place a focus on protecting sustainable agricultural values, particularly as it relates to soil health.

       The Garst Family is auctioning farmland located throughout four counties in west- central Iowa that already utilizes and benefits from sustainable farming practices. The conservation easement protects the decades of soil conservation efforts implemented by the Garst family and maintains the sustainable value of the properties for the environment.


       “It’s natural for Whiterock Conservancy to accept these easements as it directly correlates to our core mission of responsible land stewardship through conservation, sustainable agriculture, recreation, and education,” said Butch Niebuhr, Chairman of the Board for Whiterock Conservancy. “Whiterock Conservancy currently employs the farming practices specified in the easements and will continue to do so on our own land.” Niebuhr continued.  


       The eight farm parcels to be protected by conservation easement are distinct from the Whiterock Conservancy site where visitors enjoy trails, camping, paddling and lodging in nature. None of this 5,500-acre site is being sold. Accepting conservation easements strengthens the organization’s ability to safeguard land for generations to come.


       Whiterock Conservancy’s role is to monitor adherence to the easements and provide guidance on the conservation values upheld by the easement as technology and farming practices continue to evolve over time. This work will involve reviewing practices implemented or maintained on the field each year, such as no-till farming, annual cover crop plantings post-harvest, maintaining terraces and grassed waterways, and more.


       Whiterock Conservancy is excited about the new opportunities for growth available with conservation easements. Following the Garst Land conservation easements, Whiterock hopes to accept more conservation easements in the future and build on the goals Whiterock was founded on.

For landowner questions concerning easements contact

Carissa Shoemaker, Whiterock Conservancy Land Manager

712-790-8221 x4


Whiterock Conservancy Conservation Easement Quick Facts

Whiterock Conservancy:

o     Whiterock Conservancy is a 501(c)3 non-profit land trust that balances; sustainable agriculture, conservation, recreation and education.  


o     The Conservancy is 5,500 acres located near Coon Rapids, Iowa, along seven miles of the Middle Raccoon River valley. This land is open to the public every day for recreation and exploration. The land consists of native and reconstructed prairie, savanna and other important ecosystems, row crop land, pasture and recreational land.

o     The Conservancy was founded in 2004 to receive this land as a gift from the Garst family.    

o     Whiterock Conservancy provides over 40 miles of groomed trails for public use, tent, RV, and primitive campsites, and private lodging.

o     Whiterock Conservancy has more than 15 years of experience farming row crop land with conservation practices including no-till, contour buffer strips, grassed waterways, cover crops, prairie strips and grass headlands. Whiterock relies, in part, on agricultural income to fund our mission

o     Whiterock Conservancy partners with respected academic institutions throughout Iowa on geological, ecological, and agricultural research.

o      Whiterock maintains staff and board members with expertise in sustainable agriculture and conservation.

o     Whiterock Conservancy is available to hold conservation easements on privately owned lands across Iowa.

Conservation Easements:

o     A conservation easement is a legal agreement between a landowner and a conservation group, in this case Whiterock Conservancy. The conservation group monitors the land use consistently into the future, to ensure compliance with the conservation goals and permitted uses expressed in the agreement.

o     The landowner retains ownership of the land, while voluntarily removing rights that could damage the land’s conservation value, like development and some land use choices which harm soil health. Each conservation easement is uniquely tailored to meet the needs of the land and the desires and conservation values of the landowner who establishes the easement.

o     The agreement is permanent – no future owner may break the terms of the agreement.    


o     Throughout the United States, conservation easements are a popular and long-established option for permanently protecting private lands.    


Whiterock’s Involvement in Soil Health Easements:


Whiterock Conservancy monitors use of the land to uphold the conservation goals of the easement. In the case of a soil health easement, this includes:

o     Reviewing practices implemented or maintained on the field each year, such as no-till farming, annual cover crop plantings post-harvest, maintenance of existing terraces and waterways, limited livestock loading, and construction.

o     Sampling and monitoring factors such as soil aggregate stability, soil organic matter, water infiltration rates, soil bulk density, and soil microbial measurements.

o     Provide guidance on the conservation values upheld by the easement as technology and farming practices continue to evolve over time.