This section covers some conservation easements basics. Interested landowners should consult with their own financial and legal advisors to learn more about how a conservation easement might help them meet their conservation and financial goals.
A qualified nonprofit, tax-exempt conservation organization – such as a land trust or conservancy – may hold a conservation easement, as can federal, state or local units of government.
The landowner and the land trust or other easement holder decide together what is needed to protect the land’s conservation values and meet the financial and personal needs of the landowner’s family. If a conservation easement is purchased using particular grant funding, grant program requirements may also influence what the easement restricts or allows.
No. Conservation easements are non-possessory real estate interest in land. Once an easement is conveyed, the easement holder has the legal responsibility to ensure that the terms of the easement are upheld.
When a land trust or government entity accepts a conservation easement, it takes on perpetual obligations to monitor the property and enforce the easement terms. Once an easement is established, the land trust documents the site’s conservation values, performs annual site inspections to ensure all the easement’s conditions are being honored, and keeps all future owners of the site informed of the easement agreement.
In the event that the terms of an easement are violated, the easement holder is accountable for making sure any damage to the conservation values on the land is repaired. The easement holder has the right and responsibility to take legal action, if necessary, to enforce conservation easements.
Conservation easements do not typically grant public access, although public access to protected land can be a stipulation of an easement if that is mutually acceptable to the landowner and the easement holder.
While restrictions defined in a conservation easement run with the property forever, land protected in this way can be sold, passed to heirs or otherwise transferred.
The value of a conservation easement donated to a qualified organization is deductible for tax purposes if it meets federal tax code requirements. There are also rules in the federal estate tax laws that favor property protected by conservation easements.
The value of an easement is the difference between the property’s fair market value before and after the conservation easement is conveyed. Easement values vary greatly: in general, the highest value easements are those placing broad restrictions against development on open space under intense development pressure.
The value of conservation easements is heavily influenced by the specific terms of each easement. Therefore, any attempt to “ball park” the value of an easement before those terms are defined is speculative, at best. Conservation easement values, either for purchase or for tax-deduction purposes, must be determined by a qualified land appraiser and must meet specific appraisal requirements.
Land subject to a conservation easement may see a reduced assessment. Under Wisconsin law, local property tax assessors are required to consider the effect of a conservation easement when setting the taxable value of the property. But in practice, assessments of eased land have varied widely in the state.
Only in rare circumstances and only by judicial decision can a conservation easement be extinguished. They should be understood as permanent agreements.
*Content courtesy of Gathering Waters Conservancy
~ Mollie Beattie Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1993-1996
“What a country chooses to save is what a country chooses to say about itself.”