The Conservation Easement QuizBy: Robert Levin
- A conservation easement requires the landowner to allow public access to the property.
Every conservation easement is different. It is up to the landowner and the land trust to arrive at mutually agreeable terms of the easement. Some conservation easements do require public access, but the majority do not.
- A conservation easement requires the landowner to extinguish all development rights on the property.
Again, every conservation easement is unique and reflects the interests of both the landowner and the easement holder. Certain easements extinguish all development rights, while the majority allow for limited development rights, usually one or two reserved building lots. This allows family members to build a house on the property, even though it is protected by the conservation easement. At the same time, a conservation easement probably will not qualify for tax benefits if it allows too many building lots. Also, fewer reserved development rights result in greater tax savings.
- There are no tax benefits available to someone who donates a conservation easement.
There are a variety of federal, state and local tax benefits available to donors of a conservation easement. Click here
for more information and examples of these benefits.
- When a landowner sells or donates a conservation easement, he no longer owns the land.
Donating or selling a conservation easement is not the same thing as donating or selling one’s whole interest in the property. The landowner continues to own the land subject to the easement. He or she has only given up the right to develop the property, in accordance with the terms of the easement.
- A conservation easement prevents any productive agricultural or forestry use of the property.
Most conservation easements allow the land to be farmed or harvested for timber. There is a kind of easement called “Forever Wild” that prevents any non-natural use of the property, but these are the exceptions, and are only agreed to when the landowner has no need or wish to continue using the property for those purposes.
- If you donate a conservation easement, it will allow other people to tell you what you can and cannot do with your land and how to manage your land on a day-to-day basis.
Most conservation easements are written to provide much flexibility in how the landowner manages his property. The holder of the easement has the right to monitor and enforce the easement, and will object if the landowner seeks to carry out an activity that is prohibited under the easement. However, the holder has no general right to manage the land or tell the landowner how to conduct an activity that is allowed by the easement.
- The state or federal government often acquires conservation easements without the landowner’s consent through eminent domain.
This almost never happens. Virtually every conservation easement program is entirely voluntary. It takes a willing landowner to donate or sell an easement. If the land trust and landowner cannot agree on the terms of an easement, then the deal is never completed.
- Land subject to a conservation easement will eventually revert to the federal or state government.
Certain property rights advocates like to claim that easements are not what they seem, and that the federal or state government will eventually take over ownership of the property. There is no evidence to support this statement. Although there are few statistics available, of the thousands of conservation easements granted to private land trusts over the last few decades, it is likely that no more than a tiny fraction have been involuntarily transferred to government ownership.
- A conservation easement is a good idea for my land.
A conservation easement is a wonderful option for many landowners, allowing them to keep their land in its natural state and to take advantage of substantial tax benefits. At the same time, a conservation easement is not for everyone. Most importantly, if you would like to keep open the option of selling your land for development at some point in the future, an easement would probably not be wise. In this case, consider some other Conservation Stewardship Options instead.