A conservation easement allows landowners to protect the natural resources and preserve the scenic beauty of their property while retaining ownership. An easement is filed with the deed and spells out a landowner’s commitment to preserve and protect land conservation values of the property.
An easement is either voluntarily donated or sold by the landowner to the land trust. It is a legally binding agreement that limits certain types of uses or prevents development from taking place on the land in perpetuity while the land remains in private hands.
Conservation Easement Benefits
Land remains in private ownership: Landowners retain ownership and may continue to love and use the land, consistent with the easement’s conservation purpose. Easements can allow for public access, but most do not.
Land is protected for the future: Conservation easements remain with the property even if the land is sold or passed on to heirs. All subsequent owners are held to the terms of the conservation easement, making easements an excellent tool for families who wish to keep their land intact.
Easements are a flexible conservation tool: Conservation easements can be adapted to the particular conservation values of the property, as well as the landowner’s goals. For example, an easement can ensure the protection of sensitive wetlands while providing for timber harvest or gardening on another portion of the property.
Easements provide significant environmental benefits: Conservation easements sustain scenic vistas, conserve watersheds, protect wildlife habitat, keep family lands intact, and enhance our quality of life.
Easements can provide significant tax benefits: When you donate a conservation easement, you may be eligible for income, property and estate tax benefits. The landowner should discuss this with his/her tax adviser or attorney. If landowners donate a conservation easement and wish to apply for a federal tax deduction, they must get a certified appraisal documenting the value of the conservation easement donation, within the same tax year of, but no more than 60 days prior to the donation. An appraisal is not needed at the time of closing.
How does the Land Trust administer, monitor and enforce the conservation easements it holds?
The Bethel Land Trust values the partnerships we have with private landowners and places a high priority on conservation easement stewardship. This is necessary to ensure that the easement donor’s conservation legacy is carried into the future, and is critical for maintaining the integrity and effectiveness of a conservation easement.
A principle element of good stewardship is the completion of routine property monitoring visits, typically once a year and with advance notice to the landowner. Through the monitoring process, changes that occur on the property are documented, and compliance with the easement is confirmed. The organization must be prepared, however, to enforce the easement in a court of law if necessary. Consequently, the Land Trust adds to its Stewardship Fund every time it accepts a conservation easement. For every conservation easement the land trust accepts, a conservation easement fund must be acquired. This usually comes from the landowner in the form of a monetary contribution to the fund however this is part of the ongoing discussions and may require creative approaches.