CONSERVATION EASEMENTS

What Landowners Need to Know

What is a conservation easement?

In general, a conservation easement is a voluntary legal agreement that is the result of a landowner choosing to limit certain uses of his or her land — like development — to conserve the natural and traditional values of the land. The terms of the conservation easement represent a mutual agreement between the landowner and Sagebrush Steppe Land Trust of how to conserve the natural and traditional values of the land. The landowner does not enter an agreement that he or she is not satisfied with.

Why do landowners place their land under conservation easement?

Landowners love their land. They also understand the challenges that threaten the integrity of their land. As development costs become increasingly difficult to compete with, many landowners are concerned their family’s home and way of life will disappear, forever. Conservation easements can safeguard family land from being developed, forever. In addition to the landowner’s desire to keep his or her land intact, there can be federal estate and income tax benefits associated with granting a conservation easement.

Can I still work my land?

Yes. A typical conservation easement encourages continued use for agricultural production, grazing, timber harvesting, and other uses consistent with the terms of the easement. Please remember that the conservation easement terms represent a mutual agreement between the landowner and the Land Trust.

If my land is under easement, can I lease my land for hunting, farming, or ranching even if those activities bring in substantial income?

Yes. For conservation easements, the issue is not the income from the activity, but the impact of the activity on the conservation values protected by the easement.

If I place a conservation easement on my land, will it remain private property?

Yes. A landowner who chooses to enter a conservation easement agreement retains full ownership of his or her land.

Can I sell my property if under easement?

Yes. The landowner retains title to the property and can sell it or give it to others. The conservation easement “runs with the land,”meaning the conservation easement is recorded as a perpetual easement on the property, and a purchaser takes the title to the property, subject to the restrictions and conditions of the conservation easement.

Do conservation easements require public access?

The term easement can be misleading. Conservation easements do not require public access. While a landowner may choose to allow public access, there is no obligation to do so.

How long does a conservation easement last?

All conservation easements with Sagebrush Steppe Land Trust are permanent and remain with the land regardless of future ownership.

Once a conservation easement is in place, can it be broken? 

No. Conservation easements are done in perpetuity and the Land Trust has a legal obligation to make sure the terms of the easement remain intact forever.

How Is The Value of A Conservation Easement Determined?

When a conservation easement is granted, the restrictions on future development often reduce the appraised value of the property. The value of a conservation easement is generally estimated as the difference between the market value of the property unencumbered (“before”) and the market value of the property subject to the easement restrictions (“after”), as determined by a qualified appraiser. For example, the “before” market value of a developable property is the amount a person would pay for the property at the current time with its development rights available. (Note that the “before” value is not the sale price of the potential developed lots.) The “after” market value is the amount a person would pay for the property, knowing that it is permanently restricted from some or all development. There is usually (but not always) a substantial difference between the before and after values, and the difference is the value of the conservation easement.

Are there tax benefits associated with donating a conservation easement? 

The donation of a qualified conservation easement can be considered a charitable gift under federal tax law, potentially providing significant estate and income tax benefits. A donated conservation easement may also lower estate tax liability, enabling the safe passage of family lands from one generation to the next. Sagebrush Steppe Land Trust strongly encourages landowners to consult their attorney or tax advisor to fully explore the estate and income tax benefits flowing from the charitable donation of a conservation easement.  

Are there costs associated with conserving my land?

Conserving your land typically involves some costs. Costs involved in closing conservation easements include: title reports, surveys, baseline documents, appraisals, legal services, financial advisory services, and so on. The Land Trust has funding to help support these costs in certain areas. If you wish to seek a charitable deduction for your conservation easement donation, you will also need to cover the cost of an appraisal. Additionally, we do ask conservation easement donors to make a one-time contribution to establish a Dedicated Stewardship Fund for your property, which ensures our ability to support and uphold your conservation goals and the resources of your property in perpetuity. The Land Trust staff will work with you to determine a fair amount. We ask landowners to share in the costs associated with granting a conservation easement to the extent they are able. In cases where these costs create a barrier to conserving important lands, we work with landowners to find funding.