A conservation easement is an agreement between a landowner and a state government agency or land trust limiting the owner’s land use to conserve the property’s existing state. These agreements are essential to preserve the natural resources of a piece of land and prevent future owners from urbanizing it.
Understanding Conservation Easements
For a conservation easement to exist, the conservation organization or public authority must establish a contract with the land owner stating the terms and conditions of maintaining the protected land. Both parties must voluntarily agree to the terms of the contract.
Legal Basis and Framework
With a conservation easement in place, the landowner still holds the title to their property and can pass it down to their heirs. However, all owners of that piece of land will have limited use of the property. For instance, the conservation organization may state that the owner must prohibit certain activities, such as grazing or cropping. The agreement may also state that the owner must perform land restoration practices, such as maintaining native grass and trees.
Types of Conservation Easements
The type of conservation easement will determine the conditions and timeline of the agreement.
- Perpetual vs. term easements: Both parties can decide whether they want the contract to have a fixed timeline or to continue until circumstances necessitate a change in the agreement.
- Donated vs. purchased easements: Purchased easements allow the owner to receive a payment from the public authority or land trust in exchange for the right to determine the property’s uses. Donated easements work similarly, except that the owner does not accept compensation but instead qualifies for certain tax benefits.
Benefits of Conservation Easements
Conservation easements benefit the landowner and anyone who uses the land in various ways, such as:
- Preservation of biodiversity: By prohibiting certain harmful practices, conservation organizations can protect endangered wildlife and plants, maintaining a balanced ecosystem on the protected land.
- Protection of scenic and cultural resources: Limiting the landowner’s use of the property can prevent owners from destroying cultural or scenic landmarks.
- Water quality and quantity preservation: If there is a body of water nearby or on the property, a conservation easement can prevent practices that may contaminate it.
- Tax benefits for landowners: Landowners can enjoy reduced taxes by choosing a perpetual donated easement.
- Role in sustainable development: Conservation easements prevent residential and commercial developments that may exploit natural resources.
Process of Establishing Conservation Easements
The overall process of forming a conservation easement consists of several steps between the landowner and the land trust or public authority. To begin, the landowners can approach a local land trust, complete an application and arrange for them to assess the property. Once the land trust approves the easement application and agrees to start the legal processes, both parties can begin their negotiations and draft a contract. The negotiation process includes setting geographical boundaries and establishing conditions the landowner must uphold to protect the land.
It is beneficial to have a conservation easement expert assist both parties throughout the establishment process. SelectROW assists landowners, land trusts and governmental organizations with conservation easements. We will guide each party through the steps and gather the necessary documentation for the application and agreement. Contact us online to get the conservation easement process started.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are a few frequently asked questions with answers to further your understanding of conservation easements.
What Is a Conservation Easement?
A conservation easement is a legally binding agreement between a property owner and a government or conservation organization that limits the owner’s use of the land to protect it.
How Does a Conservation Easement Benefit Landowners?
Landowners can secure tax incentives, preserve biodiversity, protect natural resources and encourage sustainable development.
Can a Conservation Easement Be Reversed or Modified?
While it is difficult to remove a conservation easement since it is a perpetual legal agreement, it can be amended if both parties agree to the new terms.
How Are Conservation Easements Monitored and Enforced?
It is the land trust’s responsibility to monitor the property and enforce the agreement’s conditions, ensuring the owner protects the land.
What Tax Incentives Are Available for Landowners With Conservation Easements?
Since a perpetual donated conservation easement reduces the taxable value of the land, landowners can benefit from tax deductions.
Are There Any Restrictions on the Use of Land Under a Conservation Easement?
Landowners are free to reside on their land and build a home provided they protect the property’s natural resources and adhere to the conditions in their agreement.
How Can Individuals or Organizations Get Involved in Supporting Conservation Easements?
Landowners can approach conservation organizations and submit an application for review. Alternatively, organizations can approach owners of scenic or culturally significant property and offer compensation in exchange for a conservation easement.