A few weeks back I discussed easements in general and specifically right of way easements for access. This week, we’ll look at a different type of easement used for conservation. But before we get into the details, know that this is a complex topic and every parcel, party, and situation will be different. To fully understand this topic and its applicability, it will require consultation with many professionals including a land broker, land trust, appraisers, attorneys, accountants, surveyors and other professionals.
WHAT IS A CONSERVATION EASEMENT?
A conservation easement is a legal agreement that removes certain rights, such as the right to develop a property, and gives those to a land trust or government agency for monitoring and protection. They are normally permanent. But the land itself is still privately owned and can be sold or used in other ways subject to those restrictions. According to the land trust alliance, in 2010 nearly 9 million acres in the US were protected by conservation easements.
The land being placed in a conservation easement must have some public benefit and must be accepted by the land trust, but the easement does not always require public access. Normally the conservation will be focused on protecting one or more of the following: important plant and wildlife habitat, water quality, forest stewardship and preservation, scenic enjoyment, and/or historically important land.
Most of the time, the easements are donated by landowners and in return, the owner receives a tax incentive for the donation. In some cases, such as land that has very sensitive natural resources, where public use is a significant conservation objective, a trust may decide to buy the land or pay for an easement instead of receiving it through a donation.
WHY DONATE AN EASEMENT?
Landowners choose to donate conservations easements for a number of reasons. These include protecting the land from development and protecting natural resources. It also allows landowners to leave behind a legacy that will remain in perpetuity. Additionally, federal tax benefits for donations may be substantial and allow for a landowner to offset the value of the donation by taking a deduction of up to 50% of their adjusted gross income for up to 15 years until the donation value is met. This can be a valuable tax-saving strategy for the right owner.
If you’d like to learn more about conservation easement tax advantages or about two of our local non-profit land trust organizations, please use the following links:
- Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy (Generally in Western NC and TN)
- Conserving Carolina (Generally in Western NC and Upstate SC)
- Land Trust Alliance Tax Incentive Brochure
If you’re looking for a professional land broker or need help understanding land issues like this, let me know! Pat Snyder, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.nationalland.com.