A conservation easement, or conservation restriction, is a legal agreement between a landowner and a land trust or government agency that permanently limits the use of the land in order to protect its conservation values. It also allows a person to continue to own and use the land as well as to sell it or pass it on his/her heirs.
Conservation easements offer great flexibility. An easement on property containing rare wildlife habitat might prohibit any development, for example, while one on a farm might allow continued farming and the building of additional agricultural structures. An easement may apply just to a portion of the property, and it does not necessarily require public access.
There are many benefits to placing a conservation easement on your land. Perhaps most importantly, it is a vehicle for ensuring that the landowner’s vision for his or her land is carried out. There may be potential tax benefits as well. Conservation easements may qualify for a Federal charitable tax deduction, the Georgia State Conservation Tax Credit, and may reduce property taxes. In addition, there may be estate tax implications if the easement reduces the value of the property.
When you donate a conservation easement to a land trust, you give up some of the rights associated with the land. For example, you might give up the right to build additional structures, while retaining the right to grow crops.
There are several important steps to take to correctly write a conservation easement. First, contact a land trust in your community to become acquainted with the organization and the services they can provide. Explore with your chosen land trust the conservation values you want to protect on the land. Discuss with the land trust what you want to accomplish, and what development rights you may want to retain. Furthermore, you should always consult with your own attorney or financial advisor regarding such a substantial decision.
Land conservation easements are very common and are used throughout the country. In the five years between 2000 and 2005, the amount of land protected by local and state land trusts using easements doubled to 6.2 million acres. Landowners have found that conservation easements can be flexible tools, and yet also provide a permanent guarantee that the land will never be developed. Conservation easements are used to protect all types of land including coastlines, farm and ranch land, historical or cultural landscapes and scenic views. Conservation easements are also used to protect streams and rivers, trails, wetlands, wildlife areas and working forests.
Specific examples of local Conservation Easements and the values they protect:
*Water Quality: A 267 acres conservation easement held by the Oconee River Land Trust borders over one mile of the Apalachee, prevents disturbance of the stream bank and provides a wide natural buffer which protects the river’s water quality.
*Wetlands Protection: A 60 acre ORLT easement protects a wetland along the Mulberry River by not allowing any disturbance of the wetland and its buffer area.
*Habitat Protection: A 367 acre easement donated to ORLT protects various habitat, from wetlands, river bottomland to meadow, providing a refuge for many types of native animals and plants.
*Working Farm: A 120 acre easement given to ORLT permits certain agricultural activities on half of the property, keeping the other half undisturbed, preventing erosion and sediment runoff into the nearby creek.
*Working Forest: A 40 easement along the Middle Oconee River donated to ORLT permits carefully stewarded timber management and responsible timbering.
*Scenic View: A 277 ORLT easement maintains the rural and traditional agricultural view for the public for over one mile along a major state highway