Conservation Easements Offer Tax Incentives For Land Owners

Conservation Easement BoundaryIn the United States, a Conservation Easement (also called conservation covenant, conservation restriction or conservation servitude) is a power invested(link) in a qualified private land conservation organization (often called a "land trust") or government (municipal, county, state or federal) to constrain, as to a specified land area, the exercise of rights otherwise held by a landowner so as to achieve certain conservation purposes.  It is an interest in real property established by agreement between a landowner and land trust or unit of government. The conservation easement "runs with the land," meaning it is applicable to both present and future owners of the land. As with other real property interests, the grant of conservation easement is recorded in the local land records; the grant becomes a part of the chain of title for the property.

The conservation easements purposes will vary depending on the character of the particular property, the goals of the land trust or government unit, and the needs of the landowners. For example, an easement’s purposes (often called "conservation objectives") might include any one or more of the following:

•    Maintain and improve water quality;
•    Perpetuate and foster the growth of healthy forest;
•    Maintain and improve wildlife habitat and migration corridors;
•    Protect scenic vistas visible from roads and other public areas; or
•    Ensure that lands are managed so that they are always available for sustainable agriculture and forestry.

The most distinguishing feature of the conservation easement as a conservation tool is that it enables users to achieve specific conservation objectives on the land while keeping the land in the ownership and control of landowners for uses consistent with the conservation objectives.

1.    The decision to place a conservation easement on a property is strictly voluntary.
2.    The restrictions of the easement are perpetual.
3.    Appraisals of the value of the easement are generally are kept private.
4.    The landowner continues to privately own and manage the land.
5.    The Landowner may receive significant state and federal tax advantages.
6.    The landowner has contributed to the public good by preserving the conservation values associated with their land for future generations.
7.    The Landowner has a responsibility to monitor future uses of the land to ensure compliance with the terms of the easement and to enforce the terms if a violation occurs.
8.    The Conservation Easement prohibits certain uses by the landowner.
9.    The agreement does not make the land public.
10.    The legal document will spell out various agreed upon use restrictions.