What is a Conservation Easement?

June 8, 2009

EasementA conservation easement is a voluntary, legal agreement between a landowner and a qualified conservation organization, government agency or Native American Tribe that permanently limits a property’s uses in order to protect its conservation value. The type of property restrictions will vary depending on the needs and interests of the owner. Therefore, each easement is a unique document.

To fully understand the easement concept, think of owning land as owning a bundle of rights. These rights might include the right to harvest timber, build structures, grow crops, drill for oil, etc. A landowner may sell or give away any or all of the individual rights that make up the full bundle. When you donate or sell a conservation easement, you give up those rights.

For example, you might sell hunting and fishing rights to local outfitters and guides, you might sell the right to harvest timber or grow hay, or you might donate the right to subdivide your parcel into 5-acre tracts. When an easement is written, the owner (grantor) and the prospective easement holder (grantee) agree as to what can and cannot be done to the property. The enforcement of the restrictions is typically conveyed to a qualified third party, such as a public agency, a land trust, or a historic preservation organization.

Easements are often called different names, according to the resource they protect. Easements used to protect historic buildings or lands are referred to as historic preservation easements. An easement that preserves an agricultural operation is called an agricultural easement. Easements can also be written to protect aesthetic resources or scenic viewsheds; these are called scenic easements.

Easements and Property Types

Any property with conservation or historic preservation values can be protected by a conservation easement. Properties with forests, wetland habitat, and endangered species habitat are prime candidates for gathering more information as to whether they qualify. Farms and ranches, beaches, historic areas, and scenic areas may also hold conservation value.

Easement Term

Perpetual easements are those that last forever. A term easement may be written for a specified period of years. An easement runs with the land – that is to say, the original owner and all subsequent owners are bound by the restrictions of the easement. The easement is recorded with the county and becomes part of the public record so that future owners and lenders can learn about the restrictions when they perform a title search.

Easements and Taxes

Property tax assessments are usually based on a property’s market value, which reflects the property’s development potential. If a conservation easement reduces the development potential of the property, it may reduce the level of assessment and the amount of the owner’s property taxes.

Check in frequently…I’m almost done with my book, The Complete Land Guide, where you’ll learn more about conservation easements.

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