Do you have open fields, a wildlife habitat, or a wetland, an especially scenic location or an historic building on your land that you want to protect? Or do you know of such places in your town?
If you do, you need to know about conservation easements. You can be a catalyst for conservation in your own community, and working to set up a conservation easement is a great project for the upcoming winter.
A conservation easement on a parcel of property will preserve it as a special place forever. A legally binding document, the restrictions on development contained in the agreement will remain no matter who owns the land in the future. Here are the steps:
I learned how to set up a conservation easement when a 26-acre farm in my town was at risk of being turned into a subdivision. If it were possible to restrict the possibility of a subdivisions and commercial use of these fields with easements, these 26 acres could be saved from development forever.
The definition of a conservation easement, by the Upper Valley Land Trust in New Hampshire, reads:
“A conservation easement is a legally enforceable agreement between the landowner and a governmental or private conservation organization wherein the landowner permanently separates certain ownership rights from a particular tract of land and the organization agrees to monitor the land for the purpose of insuring that the provisions of the agreement are honored. Most often the easements are donated, but in some instances they are bought for full or partial value.”
“Landowners grant conservation easements to protect their land from inappropriate development while retaining private ownership. A conservation easement assures the landowner that the resources values of his or her property will be protected forever, no matter who the future owners are.
“Any property of value for agriculture, forestry, recreation, water resources, wildlife habitat or for its scenic or historic qualities may be protected by means of a conservation easement.”
In addition to the long-range goal of preserving landing perpetuity, landowners can expect tax benefits as well. If the easement is a gift, it might qualify as a charitable deduction. If the easement qualifies for Current Use Assessment, the landowner’s property tax could be reduced. Land protected by a conservation easement may be sold or transferred, but the restrictions of the easement go with the transaction.
We needed to raise well over $100,000 and apply for extra large sums in grants from a state land protection agency in order to buy easements for this farmland. A private conservation council footed a tremendous fund drive. The town itself contributed funds from their land-protection fund, and many people from nearby towns who know the fields contributed to the funding of the easement as well. We succeeded! The town now owns the easements and will monitor the lands to ensure that there are no violations of the agreement, no matter who the owners may be in the future!