A conservation easement is a legal agreement between a landowner and a nonprofit land trust or governmental entity that permanently limits the uses of the land in order to protect specified conservation values. Those restrictions are negotiable, but once the agreement is reached, all present and future owners are bound by its terms. SALT offers three basic types of conservation easements that are used in different contexts.
Forever wild conservation easement
A “forever wild” easement is designed to keep land in its natural state, with minimal interference from human beings. This type of easement allows landowners to manage property for wildlife, and passive recreation, but restricts all types of commercial development and intensive land use, including farming and commercial forestry.
Working forests conservation easement
A working forests easement is designed to protect the conservation values of property while allowing landowners to practice sustainable forestry. After working with a certified NC forester, the landowner is allowed to practice commercial forestry in compliance with a forest management plan. Typically other intensive land uses such as farming are prohibited with this type of easement.
Working farms conservation easement
Working farms easements are designed to allow traditional farming practices to continue on lands that are under pressure from development. Farmers can continue to clear new fields, manage pasture, till the land, and build farm-related structures, but generally cannot subdivide property or build structures not related to farming.
In many circumstances landowners will desire different types of easement on different parts of their property, and wish to excerpt portions of the property from the easement area altogether. SALT and the landowner can work together to craft a site plan that incorporates more than one kind of easement.
Benefits of conservation easements:
- They leave the property in the ownership of the private landowner, who may continue to live on it, sell it or pass it on to heirs.
- They can significantly lower estate taxes, and provide the landowners with income tax and/or property tax benefits. click here to learn more about the tax benefits of conservation easements.
- They are flexible, and can be written to meet the particular needs of the landowners while protecting the property’s resources.
- They are permanent, even when the land changes hands.
- They provide private landowners with a means to control the future use of their own private lands - independent of government agencies and the local planning and zoning process.
Sample conservation easement: Click here to read one of SALT’s model easements.
Steps towards a conservation easement with SALT: Placing a conservation easement on your property is an involved process that can take anywhere from 6 months to 2 years. Here’s a quick guide to the steps towards a conservation easement:
- Site Visit: After the initial contact with the landowner, SALT staff arrange a visit to the property and discuss conservation options.
- Letter of Intent: If the landowner wishes to proceed with the easement process, they draft a letter to SALT’s executive director expressing their interest and willingness to donate a conservation easement.
- Approval of SALT’s Land Committee: After we have received the letter of intent, SALT’s Land Committee, consisting of board members and staff, must certify that the project meets our criteria for land protection projects and give their approval to proceed.
- Onsite Inspection and Baseline Documentation: SALT staff schedules a comprehensive site inspection to document the conservation values of the property in writing.
- Draft Easement Document: With the help of the landowner’s attorney, SALT and the Landowner prepare a draft conservation easement document that protects the conservation values of the property and meets the long-term plans of the landowner.
- Landowner and Board Approval: SALT’s board of directors and the landowner review and approve the easement document.
- Appraisal: An independent appraiser determines the value of the conservation easement.
- Survey: A surveyor finalizes the boundaries of the easement and prepares an official survey.
- Form 8283 of the Federal Income Tax Return: In order to qualify for federal tax benefits, the landowner must attach form 8283 to their federal income tax return. The landowner is responsible for completing this form.