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Owning Land

An Introduction to Conservation Easements

October 4, 2017

Conservation easements have become quite popular in the last decade because of the many benefits they offer for landowners and the public. In 2010, nearly 9 million acres across the country were protected through conservation easements, according to Land Trust Alliance.

A conservation easement is a legal agreement between a landowner and a land trust that limits the use of private land to protect its natural resources such as forests, soils, creeks, waterfalls, etc. Easements protect properties for current and future landowners.

The biggest benefit easements offer is providing a way to protect your land from commercial development to take over and build on it, for example. If your property has a large lake or several acres of timber on it, you can rest assured those resources will remain in their natural state no matter the circumstances.

Conservation easements can also reduce income taxes. Since easements can be donated, landowners can claim the value on their taxes as a charitable donation (if it follows federal requirements). Depending on your state laws, this can lower federal and state income taxes.

Placing a conservation easement on your private land truly benefits everyone. Easements help maintain good water quality in the area by protecting local watersheds and other water sources. They also preserve the natural beauty of the land: mountains, trees, flowers and even wildlife.

In general, conservation easements are permanent. Regardless if you are passing down your land to family or selling it, the conservation easement will still be in effect. So, putting a conservation easement on your land is a decision you’ll want to spend some time thinking about.

When placing a conservation easement on your land, the first thing you should do is talk to a local land trust. You want to get to know them and their mission. You should also talk it over with your family. Especially if you’re thinking about passing your land down to children or grandchildren. You may also want to consult with your attorney and a financial adviser. Talking with these groups of people will also help you figure out your main goals.

A land trust’s job is to ensure that current and future landowners maintain the conditions of the conservation easement. Responsibilities of a land trust also include stewarding and monitoring the property and working with landowners to determine the easement conditions that work best for them and their property. Trusts are also responsible for taking legal action when those conditions aren’t met.

Conservation easements are a great tool to keep in your resource “toolbox” to maintain and improve not only your land but also the environment. It’s an easy way to preserve the land that you love and enjoy spending time on, and ensure it remains in great condition for you and your family, as well as future generations.

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