A conservation easement is a voluntary, legally binding agreement that limits the use of a parcel of land permanently for the purpose of preservation. The agreement may be between a landowner, a state agency, a land trust, or another qualified entity.
Although these agreements can be used for land development, they are most often used to protect land for scenic, historical, recreational, or historical purposes. The landowner may retain ownership rights to the property (forest or farmland) and continue to use it under a conservation easement. They can also pass the land down to their heirs or sell it with a conservation easement in place.
How Does it Work?
Every conservation easement may differ with specific terms to protect the land while also protecting the landowners’ rights.
The main objective of a conservation easement is to protect the land, but it must also provide public benefits such as outdoor recreation, a wildlife preserve, water quality, farmland, scenic views, education, or historic preservation.
Typically, these agreements allow farming and ranching to continue on the land, but mining and development may be prohibited or limited.
Most conservation easements allow the sale or inheritance of the land, but each agreement is unique. Sometimes federal, state, or local governments fund the purchase of conservation easements.
What are the Benefits of a Conservation Easement?
There are various benefits to a conservation easement agreement. Some of them are as follows:
- To protect privately-owned land without any additional cost to the owner.
- The landowner may retain ownership and usage rights.
- If the land is donated, the landowner may enjoy tax benefits. Often the tax benefits are enormous.
- These agreements can protect property from public use.
- A conservation easement provides economic benefits to the local region while retaining private ownership of the land.
- Another benefit that a conservation easement provides is allowing a landowner to plan for the future to prevent development on the land so they can pass it onto future generations.
- Most conservation easements are permanent and cannot be disputed. In rare cases, a temporary easement may be used, but not in most situations.
- They can protect forestlands for many generations to come.
- Preserves wildlife and natural water sources (lakes, rivers, streams, etc.).
Because conservation easements are flexible and easy to execute, they are becoming very popular. In the U.S., more than 9 million acres are protected by conservation easements.
How to Set up a Conservation Easement for Your Land
The first step is to find and contact a land trust in your area. You should also speak with family members to make sure everyone is on the same page about this choice. Contact your attorney and hammer out all the details of how you want your conservation easement to work and how to move forward.
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