The most common way to protect land is by using a “conservation easement.” Conservation easements are voluntary and permanent legal agreements that restrict some land uses in order to protect important conservation values. Conservation easements help preserve special places by limiting some of the rights of land ownership—such as the rights to develop or subdivide. It allows landowners to continue to own and use their land, and they can also sell it or pass it on to heirs. The limits of the conservation easement ‘runs with the land.’ The Keweenaw Land Trust helps ensure that the natural and cultural values of lands are protected by working with private landowners to uphold the terms of the easement over the long-term.
What is a conservation easement?
If you own land and want to provide for its long term protection, while still retaining ownership of the land, you can consider the conservation easement approach. A conservation easement is a legal agreement to protect a property's conservation values. The land trust works with the landowner to develop the terms of the easement and once agreed upon this becomes a contract that is recorded and attached to the deed of the property. The landowner and the land trust that create the easement tailors it to the owner's wishes for the land in alignment with the goals of the land trust, and the easement continues in perpetuity even when the land changes hands. The easement is held by a land trust or other conservation organization that provides for long term monitoring and enforcement of the easement terms to protect the land.
As a landowner, you have multiple rights to your land, such as the right to develop it and use its resources. Through a conservation easement, you donate certain rights to the land trust that then holds those rights in perpetuity. You do not give up ownership of the land or the right to use the land in ways designated in the easement. For example, if you want to continue to harvest timber, you can create an easement that limits or prevents development but retains the right to use your land for sustainable forest management. This kind of easement is sometimes called a "working forest easement".
A conservation easement may entitle you to tax benefits, because the value of your easement donation can be treated as a charitable gift to be deducted from income taxes if federal tax code requirements are met. Property taxes may be lowered if the easement lowers the fair market value of the land. Qualified appraisals are an important part of determining tax benefits, and an attorney and local assessors should be consulted. Estate taxes can also be an important consideration. Heirs are often forced to sell all or part of the land they inherit to pay estate taxes. However, a conservation easement may reduce inheritance taxes.
As the holder of your conservation easement, the Keweenaw Land Trust is legally responsible for monitoring the provisions of the easement by conducting annual inspections and enforcing restrictions. The landowner is encouraged to provide a donation to the trust to offset the cost of this perpetual stewardship.
For more information on conservation easements, please contact us.