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What is a conservation easement?

by Bergen Tjossem

A conservation easement is a voluntary legal agreement between a landowner and a charitable organization or government entity that permanently preserves scenic or agricultural open space, natural habitat, or recreational areas (conservation values) for the benefit of the public. The owner places permanent restrictions on the future uses of some or all of his or her property to protect the conservation values. These agreements are individually tailored to protect the conservation values of the property while allowing the property to stay under private ownership and control. Conservation easements may preserve traditional land uses such as family farming and ranching. The restrictions usually limit the number of future homesites but can, and often do, limit other uses as well.

Conservation easements are specifically tailored to meet the conservation and financial/tax planning interests of each landowner. The final conservation easement for a specific property is the result of drafting and redrafting the document numerous times until all parties are satisfied. When an easement has been signed and recorded, the land trust must see that it is honored in perpetuity. The trust will visit the property annually thereafter and will defend the easement’s intent if necessary.

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