Requirements of a Conservation Easement
In order to qualify as a conservation easement, the landowner and property must meet several requirements. The requirements of a conservation easement include
- The easement must have a significant conservation purpose.
- The easement must be granted to or held by a “qualified conservation organization” that will monitor the property.
- The property’s current conditions must be recorded with a baseline ecological assessment.
- The property value must be determined through an appraisal.
- A legal survey of the property must be completed.
Significant Conservation Purpose
Habitats with significant conservation purpose include bottomland hardwood forests, longleaf pine forests, native prairies, red clay hills, bayous, coastal savannas, scenic rivers and streams, and more.
Significant Conservation Purpose
To qualify as a significant conservation purpose, the easement must protect or restore habitat types established as national priorities and funded by incentive programs such as
- Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program
- Wetland Reserve Easement (WRE)
- Healthy Forests Reserve Program
- Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP)
- Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP)
- Agricultural Land Easement (ALE)
- Conservation Reserve Program (CRP)
- North American Waterfowl Management Plan
- A state’s Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy
These habitats include bottomland hardwood forests, longleaf pine forests, native prairies, red clay hills, bayous, coastal savannas, scenic rivers and streams, and more. Properties with historical importance or certified historic structures may be included as well.
Qualified Conservation Organization
A qualified conservation organization is defined by law to include specific local, state, or federal government agencies whose primary purpose is the conservation of natural resources.
The landowner chooses the organization that will hold the easement. The conservation organization then has the right and responsibility to monitor and enforce the restrictions placed on the property to ensure that the terms of the easement are being met.
The restrictions on the property must be clearly defined in the easement document. The easement document does not allow the organization that holds the easement to exercise any rights that the landowner has chosen to restrict. For example, the public will not have access to your property unless you expressly grant the public access to it.
Baseline Ecological Assessment
Typically, resource professionals experienced in ecological progression and the related plant, animal, and natural geographic features conduct the baseline ecological assessment.
The baseline ecological assessment establishes and records the property’s condition and the land uses that exist when the conservation easement is established.
The conservation organization or land trust that holds the easement will use this baseline assessment to monitor the property.
A conservation easement’s monetary value is determined by a competent real estate appraiser who has experience with conservation easements. This professional appraises the property with and without the easement.
Appraisers must demonstrate to the landowner that they are qualified under the law and any Treasury Regulations or guidance that may exist. The qualified appraiser must demonstrate verifiable education and experience in valuing the type of property subject to the appraisal.
Conservation easements in areas where development pressure is intense have a higher value than those in remote areas. Likewise, a conservation easement that prohibits any development will have a higher value than an easement that permits a property to be divided or developed.
This value of the easement is determined by subtracting the value of the property with the easement from the value of the property without the easement.
Value of easement = (property value) – (property value with easement)
The value of the easement is considered a donation or charitable contribution for income tax purposes. An easement may reduce the value of the property in the landowner’s estate, which will also reduce the amount of estate taxes that will be paid.
A tract of land may be worth $120,000 as a potential residential development but worth only $20,000 as open space or recreational property. If a landowner donates a conservation easement to a land trust that prohibits new construction on their property, they make a charitable contribution of $100,000. The landowner may then be eligible for up to $100,000 in federal income tax deductions.
A competent surveyor familiar with conservation easements defines the boundaries of a conservation easement. The survey may include an existing boundary reconciliation, recordation, and written descriptions.
A Handbook for Landowners in the Lower Mississippi River Valley
This handbook is the guide for landowners in the Lower Mississippi River Valley who are interested in learning more about conservation easements. It provides background knowledge about easements, information about the steps involved, the tax benefits of conservation easements, and more about setting up a conservation easement.