Frequently Asked Questions

What is a land trust?

Though there are some slight differences, land conservancies and land trusts will be discussed interchangeably.

A land trust is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that works to conserve land and protect open space by undertaking or assisting in conservation easement acquisition and monitoring. Land trusts are NOT government agencies, but are independent organizations. Some land trusts work cooperatively with government agencies by acquiring or managing land, researching open space needs and priorities, or assisting in the development of open space plans.

What is a Conservation Easement?

A conservation easement is a legal agreement between a landowner and a land trust or government agency. Land uses are permanently limited in order to protect conservation values. It allows you to continue to own and use your land and to sell it or pass it on to heirs.

Easements are flexible and can be designed to meet the needs of the landowner as long as the natural resources are protected. An easement on forested land may include rights for the owner to build a house while disallowing a development. Farms generally retain the rights to keep farming. Easements are generally granted in perpetuity, though on rare occasions they can be designated for a set number of years. An easement may apply to just a portion of the property, and does not require public access.

Conservation easements are usually donated, though landowners occasionally sell an easement. If the donation is beneficial for permanently protecting conservation resources and meets other federal tax code requirements it can qualify as a tax-deductible charitable donation, offering potential for substantial income tax benefits. The amount of the donation is the difference between the lands value with the easement and its value without the easement. Placing an easement on your property may or may not result in property tax savings depending upon your location.

Also important is the fact that a conservation easement can be essential for passing land on to the next generation. By removing the lands development potential, the easement lowers its market value, which in turn lowers estate tax. Whether the easement is donated during life or by will, it can make a crucial difference in the ability of the heirs to keep the land intact.

Land Owner Rights for Conservation Easements

Can land be sold?

Yes

Can land be passed to heirs?

Yes; it may even make the process easier;

Can home lots be reserved for children?

Yes

Can farming be continued on farms?

Yes

Can use the land as collateral for loans?

Yes

Is the public allowed on my land?

No; not unless you choose to do so;

Does an easement mean my land is open to the public?

No! Your land is as private as it was before the easement. Generally, the land trust is permitted one annual visit to monitor the property. The land trust should request access permission ahead of time to make sure the visit falls at a good time for the owner.

How does an easement benefit me?

Easements not only help you to leave a legacy for future, but to protect the land and its natural resource values. Income tax benefits gained from easements can be utilized for numerous carry-over years. Property taxes may potentially be greatly reduced. Easements can help to protect your heirs from future property taxes. They are a tool to maintain scenic and green space values around an estate. They can also be an important tool for a family farm to continue to operate.

How do I know if my land is significant for an easement?

Professionals at the Land Conservancy and other organizations will be glad to help you determine this.

How long does an easement last?

Although occasionally easements are given for determined lengths of time, most are given in perpetuity.

Can I still build a house in the future if I have an easement?

Yes, if you specify that right in the initial easement documentation.

Will I be able to hand down my property to my children?

Yes; In fact, a conservation easement can be essential for passing land on to the next generation. By removing the lands development potential, the easement lowers its market value, which in turn lowers estate tax. Whether the easement is donated during life or by will, it can make a crucial difference in the ability of the heirs to keep the land intact.

What is the advantage of working with a land trust?

Since land trusts are private organizations, they can be more flexible, prompt, and creative than public agencies. Land trusts are familiar with the region in which they operate. Moreover, land trusts nonprofit tax status brings them a variety of tax benefits. Donations of land, conservation easements or money may qualify you for income tax savings.

Why protect land?

Each year an astounding 2,200,000 acres of land ( USDA Resource Conservation Service data during 1997 2001) are lost to development. People are tremendously concerned about the unprecedented loss of open space in their communities. They see subdivisions supplanting the open spaces that were once their views and where they once walked and hiked. They want to know how they can help to save the green spaces and views that make their communities unique. Land conservancies help to mitigate this loss by keeping valuable open space for the future.

Natural communities provide the wellspring of biotic diversity that has sustained us thus far. It is through conservation of natural communities that we help ensure our future. Aldo Leopold said “ To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.” Since all species, including humans, are linked in the web of life one never knows which links will be the critical ones.

Discoveries of wild plant species have been responsible for many significant medical remedies and other important factors in human history. Wetlands provide ground water recharge, rare plant and animal habitat, pollution filtering, flood control, and other amenities. Trees provide oxygen, shade, scenic beauty, soil-building materials, and necessary wildlife food and habitat. Undisturbed green space provides the scenic views so important to people. They enhance the quality of our lives, add economic value to our communities, and are the mainstay of the tourism industries.