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Question
Is there any Idaho statutes that would not allow for a municipality to establish a natural cemetery on lands in reserve (conservation cemetery)?

Answer
Hi Anna,

As far as I know, Idaho municipalities are not prohibited from establishing cemeteries, natural or otherwise.

Conservation reserves can be created by farmers or other property owners who meet USDA criteria listed in the Farm Bill (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conservation_Reserve_Program gives a very general background). Cemeteries are not generally included in the Farm Bill program.

A conservation program removes sensitive land from future development - http://www.landtrustalliance.org/conservation/landowners/conservation-easements - the landowner donates or sacrifices rights to develop land in ways that might compromise ecosystem values the community enjoys from the undeveloped land and, in turn, is compensated somehow. The benefits are usually in the form of tax breaks.

It's hard to understand why a municipality would want to establish a cemetery on lands held in reserve for conservation purposes, since the act of burial is a human use, a human impact, and human development is generally at odds with conservation, where the purpose is to NOT have human impact on the land. And municipalities get no benefits from tax breaks (private landowners who donate land to non-profits in exchange for the easement tax breaks DO benefit, and often the main beneficiary in a conservation easement is the private landowner, with the taxpayer paying for the easement in the form of fewer taxes collected for public services.)

BTW, not everyone is a fan of conservation easements; they're bought and sold, usually by wealthy non-profit organizations; they make money for various organizations and those wealthy enough to benefit from large tax breaks (and that money will have to come from somewhere, either the taxpayer or the person buying a grave), and easements can have unintended consequences:

* http://www.dailyprogress.com/starexponent/opinion/columnists/farming-conservatio
* http://www.irs.gov/Charities-&-Non-Profits/Conservation-Easements
* http://www.nationalcenter.org/NPA569.html

And figuring out the value of the easement - i.e., the amount of money the US taxpayers pay to the landowner for allowing the easement on their property - is complicated:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/realestate/doing-a-conservation-easement-without-r
*http://www.privatelandownernetwork.org/pdfs/questionable%20conservation%20easeme  

(For example, if cemetery land in conventional development would have made 1,000,000.00 per acre and as a natural burial ground it only makes 200,000.00 per acre because of the conservation easement, does that entitle the landowner to an 800,000.00 tax-break, paid by the US taxpayer? You can hear the squeaks from the "eek" department, I'm sure...)

Municipalities don't have to face those headaches. If a municipality wants a cemetery, its people can create one. And - municipal or not - once it's dedicated, outside of extraordinary circumstances, cemetery land won't be developed as anything else, due to the fact that it's a cemetery, so it's already protected from development (usually the reason for a conservation easement). The municipality can stipulate that natural burials would be policy, and the covenants to manage the land sustainably can be created in the contracts with the individuals who purchase graves, so the easement isn't really needed for that, either.

Fortunately, many existing cemeteries are able to convert to, or add, natural burial right now, with relatively little extra investment - and this includes municipal cemeteries. There's nothing to keep a city from using some of the funds from the burial to support the habitat on the grounds and reduce the resources used in caring for the cemetery. And by doing a natural burial with biodegradable coffin materials, the city minimizes the burden for future generations.

All of which is good news, because it means that the formal conservation process (with all its complications) is not required in order for a community to have access to affordable natural burials that create a funding stream for the local government to care for its wildlife and conserve its resources while providing its citizens with a place of remembrance for families and loved ones. So, if you're looking for encouragement to get Idaho cities thinking about natural burial, tell them it's easy and to hop to it!

Hope that helped!

Cynthia  

Cemetery

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Cynthia Beal

Expertise

Typical questions include 1) Where can I go for a natural burial? 2) What types of coffins, urns and other "packaging" are best for natural decomposition? 3)How do I plan for a natural funeral? 4) Do I have to be embalmed? and other questions in this vein. I'm available to answer general consumer questions about natural burial, home and natural funerals, and sustainable cemetery management. I answer questions about general cemetery matters, and offer suggestions about how to deal with remains, cremated or buried, interment rights, rules for cemeteries and plot owners, covering conventional as well as alternative options. I also answer questions from professionals, home funeral guides, and family members about how to manage a natural funeral either in the mortuary or at the home, how to best use natural coffins and urns, and how to convert cemeteries to natural, sustainable practices. I will answer questions from volunteer cemetery managers about how to offer natural burial in their rural, Pioneer, or non-profit cemeteries. If I don't know an answer I'll refer the questioner to someone who does. DISCLAIMER -- I am a certified pre-need sales person in the State of Oregon. I am not a licensed attorney, tax adviser, estate planner, funeral director, embalmer, accountant, public official, or any other professional that may be associated with issues the question brings up and any answers I provide should not be relied upon if such expertise is required by the asker (as per the All Expert suggestion). I provide my own personal opinions, based on my experience in business, Nature and its systems, and with human beings after 55 years of life on the planet.

Experience

Natural burial and sustainable cemetery management experience: I'm the founder of the Natural Burial Company and a member of the Sustainable Cemetery Management Group. Over 25 years in the natural products industry, and 9 years running the Natural Burial Company. I've done some consulting for existing and start-up natural cemetery operations. I'm currently an instructor at Oregon State University, facilitating the creation of a program in sustainable cemetery management and stimulating research in cemetery-oriented processes and functions.

Organizations
ICCFA - International Cemetery, Crematory and Funeral Association Green Business Network Funeral Consumers Alliance

Publications
American Cemetery Magazine; Funeral Business Advisor; Real Goods Source Book; American Funeral Director Magazine, etc.

Education/Credentials
There is no degree in natural burials or funerals, and no accredited education provided for sustainable cemetery management. We're developing a program at Oregon State University but it hasn't fully launched yet.

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