How We Protect Land
What is a Conservation Easement?
A conservation easement is a voluntary agreement between a landowner and an easement holder (such as a qualified non-profit conservation organization like Natural Heritage Land Trust or a unit of government) to protect land by permanently restricting certain uses.
A conservation easement is voluntary.
A landowner voluntarily chooses to place a conservation easement on his or her land; the Land Trust can not make a landowner sign a conservation easement.
A conservation easement is permanent.
A conservation easement is attached to the deed of the property and stays with the land even after ownership changes. Because a conservation easement is permanent, a landowner needs to be sure that placing a conservation easement on his/her property is the right choice. It is a similar situation to selling a portion of a farm for development; the landowner should not expect to be able to get that land back if he/she changes his/her mind in the future.
A conservation easement is flexible.
Conservation easements can help landowners accomplish different goals, including keeping farmland available for production, or protecting a cherished piece of land from development.
What is allowed under a conservation easement?
Farming, forestry, hunting, installing or maintaining fences, selling or bequeathing the land, and restoring wildlife habitat are some of the uses that landowners typically retain under conservation easements.
For example, on an easement in the Black Earth Creek valley, one of the places where Natural Heritage Land Trust focuses its work, a landowner wanted to maintain productive agricultural lands and protect groundwater recharge areas, while prohibiting additional residential development and most commercial use of the land. The easement he signed with the Land Trust protects the agricultural and conservation values of the land, while allowing him to continue to own and use the property.
Public access is not typically granted by a conservation easement, although it can be if a landowner desires.
Can a landowner get paid for placing a conservation easement on his or her land?
Federal, state, and local government grant programs fund the purchase of conservation easements for land that has certain features (such as high-quality soil) or is located in some areas (such as adjacent to parks or wildlife areas). Otherwise, a landowner who wishes to place a conservation easement on his or her property may have to donate the conservation easement (and in that case, the landowner may be eligible for tax benefits).
Why would a landowner consider placing a conservation easement on his or her land?
- The landowner’s goals may include ensuring that future generations can enjoy the agricultural, natural or scenic values of the property
- The landowner may be able to receive cash compensation for the development value and could use the money to reinvest in farming operations, for retirement, or for other purposes
- A conservation easement may help make it possible to sell the land to the next generation at an affordable price
- Landowners who donate all or part of the value of a conservation easement may gain significant income tax advantages
What rights does the easement holder have?
The easement holder typically has two rights: the right to enter the property for inspection (with notice to the landowner—usually this is done once a year), and the right to enforce the terms of the conservation easement (to uphold the landowner’s wishes for the property).
Who can I talk to if I am interested or if I have more questions?
For more information about Natural Heritage Land Trust and how we can work with you, call Caleb Pourchot or Jim Welsh at (608) 258-9797.
Other Conservation Options
Donating or Selling Your Land for Conservation
If you are interested in donating or selling your land for conservation purposes, Natural Heritage Land Trust may be able to help. In some situations, the Land Trust buys land as additions to state or county parks, trails, or natural resource areas.
Reserved Life Estate
With a reserved life estate, you sell or donate your land to Natural Heritage Land Trust but continue to live on and use your property for the remainder of your life, or that of your immediate family members.
Please contact Jim Welsh or Caleb Pourchot at Natural Heritage Land Trust at (608) 258-9797 if you would like more information about any of the options mentioned above to protect your property.