A conservation easement is a voluntary, negotiated legal agreement between a landowner and the land trust. Conservation easements protect agricultural, scenic, historic, and archaeological values, and wildlife habit by placing permanent restrictions on the future use of the land. The restrictions are dependent on the conservation goals and tailored to the needs and desires of each landowner. The landowner retains fee title to the property and can sell, devise, or otherwise transfer title to the land, subject only to the terms of the conservation easement. Public access is not granted unless the landowner requests that option. The land trust is charged with monitoring the property to ensure that the conservation values are being protected and the terms of the conservation easement upheld.
Conservation easements can be donated by the landowner or purchased by the land trust. When donated, landowners can receive a tax deduction equal to the value lost by the recording of the conservation easement. When purchased, landowners receive cash equal to the value lost by the recording of the conservation easement.
Special Opportunity for Landowners
Congress recently extended -- through 2011 and possibly indefinitely -- a Federal tax incentive for conservation easement donations that has helped thousands of landowners conserve their land. The incentive raises the deduction a donor can take for donating a conservation easement from 30 percent of his or her income in any year to 50 percent; allows qualifying farmers and ranchers to deduct up to 100 percent of their income; and extends the carry-forward period for a donor to take tax deductions for a voluntary conservation easement from 5 to 15 years.
Direct acquisition is a good option for landowners who wish to see their property protected, but no longer want to retain ownership. Acquisition is also a good option for the land trust when a property’s protection would provide great benefit to the community, whether it be wildlife protection, public access, or viewshed.