Contact RELC to discuss the easement process.
Schedule a site visit to determine whether property meets RELC's acceptance criteria.
Seek counsel from your financial and legal advisors.
Draft the easement, including any reserved rights.
Contract a certified professional to perform an appraisal of the property.
Submit the easement for RELC board approval.
RELC compiles a baseline documentation report.
Finalize the easement and attend the closing.
Make a one-time contribution to establish the property's stewardship endowment.
File for Charitable Deduction on Income Taxes (optional).
Ongoing monitoring and enforcement by RELC.
A conservation easement is a legal agreement between a landowner and a land trust or government agency that permanently limits use of the land in order to protect its conservation values. It allows you to continue to own and use your land and to sell it or pass it on to heirs.
Donors in our region are part of a nationwide conservation effort that has protected 37 million acres of land. Some of these voluntary easement agreements require that the land remain “forever wild,” while others allow limited development.
When you donate a conservation easement to a land trust, you permanently terminate 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. The easement acts as an addendum to the deed, and transfers with ownership when the property is sold or bequeathed. Thus, future owners also will be bound by the easement's terms. One of the land trust’s responsibilities is ensuring that the easement's terms are followed, especially after a deed transfer.
Conservation easements offer great flexibility. An easement on property containing rare wildlife habitats might prohibit any development, for example, while one on a farm might allow continued farming and the building of additional agricultural structures. An easement may apply to just a portion of the property and need not require public access.
How to develop a conservation easement
A landowner sometimes sells a conservation easement, but usually easements are donated. If the donation benefits the public by permanently protecting important conservation resources and meets other federal tax code requirements, it may qualify as a tax-deductible charitable donation. The amount of the donation is normally the difference between the land's value with the easement in place and its value without the easement. Placing an easement on your property may or may not result in property tax savings. Each person’s financial situation is different, and we recommend that prospective donors seek professional tax and legal advice.
A conservation easement can also be essential for passing land on to the future generations. By preventing future development on a property, the easement may lower the land’s market value, which in turn may lower estate taxes. Whether the easement is donated during life or by bequest, it can make a critical difference in the heir’s ability to keep the land intact.
In order for RELC to accept a property for stewardship, the property must meet set criteria that further RELC’s goals of protecting and conserving open space in the community and fulfill its responsibility of providing a benefit to the community. Agreements for accepting a grantor’s property are flexible and may be tailored to specific needs.
Conservation Easement Criteria
The property is of national or local historic value.
The property has topographical features worthy of conservation and preservation, or adds significantly to the aesthetic value of the region.
The property is of sufficient size (i.e., more 3 acres).
The property is in, or is capable of, active agricultural or forestry use.
The property buffers agricultural land, wetland, wildlife habitats, or other sensitive natural areas, or includes important wildlife habitats and/or known migration routes.
Protection and Conservation
The property is contiguous to land already protected by easements or other conservation restrictions, or is in close proximity to private land already preserved or likely to be permanently protected.
The easement will set an important precedent for protecting and conserving other land in close proximity.
The property affects the integrity of a significant watershed, creek, pond, wetland, river, or other body of water or aquifers.
The property affects the integrity of pastures, woodlands, or other topographical terrain of natural importance, requiring protection of threatened, rare, or endangered plants and animals.