A conservation easement is a legal agreement between a landowner and a land trust that permanently limits uses of the land in order to protect its conservation values. It allows you to continue to own and use your land and to sell it or pass it on to heirs.
Conservation easements provide great flexibility. Landowners and land trusts, working together, can write conservation easements that reflect both the landowner’s and the land trust’s goals.
An easement on property containing rare wildlife habitat might prohibit any development, for example, while one on a ranch might allow continued ranching and the building of additional agricultural structures. An easement may apply to just a portion of the property, like a trail easement. Easements need not require public access.
A landowner sometimes sells a conservation easement, but usually easements are donated. If the donation benefits the public by permanently protecting important conservation resources and meets other federal tax code requirements it can qualify as a tax-deductible charitable donation. The amount of the donation is the difference between the land’s value with the easement and its value without the easement. Placing an easement on your property may or may not result in property tax savings, and the Land Trust recommends each landowner receive their own professional and legal advice.
Perhaps most important, a conservation easement can be essential for passing land on to the next generation. By removing the land’s development potential, the easement lowers its market value, which in turn lowers estate tax. Whether the easement is donated during life or by will, it can make a critical difference in the heirs’ ability to keep the land intact.