What's a Conservations Easement

What’s a Conservation Easement?

A “conservation easement” (also known as a conservation restriction) is a legal agreement between a landowner and a land trust or government agency that permanently limits uses of the land in order to protect its conservation value, or in this case, farming value. It allows landowners to continue to own and use their land, as well as sell it or pass it on to heirs.

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. Future owners also will be bound by the easement contract’s terms. The land trust is responsible for “stewardship,” or monitoring and enforcing the terms of the easement.

Conservation easements offer great flexibility and are written to suit each individual property. An easement on a farm might allow continued farming and the addition of agricultural structures; this is the type of easement in which the Ag Land Trust specializes. An easement may apply to all or a portion of the property, and does not require that public access be granted.

Tax Deductions

Most easements are donated to a land trust, although some are purchased from the landowner. If the donation constitutes a public benefit by permanently protecting important conservation resources, and meets other federal tax code requirements, it can qualify as a tax-deductible charitable donation. Easement values vary; in general, the highest easement values result from more restrictive conservation easements on tracts of developable open space under intense development pressure. In some jurisdictions, placing an easement on your property may also result in property tax savings.

Estate Tax Deductions

A conservation easement can be key for passing undeveloped land on to the next generation. By removing the land’s development potential, the easement typically lowers the potential estate tax. Whether an easement is donated during life or by will, it can make a critical difference in one’s heirs’ ability to keep the land intact.