Conservation Easement FAQ

What is a Conservation Easement?

A conservation easement is a voluntary agreement that allows landowners to limit the type or amount of development on their property while retaining private ownership of the land. It is a legal document defining future uses of the land. The easement is signed by the landowner, who is the easement donor, and the Conservancy, which is the party receiving the easement. The Conservancy accepts the easement with the understanding that it must enforce the terms of the easement in perpetuity. After the easement is signed, it applies to all future owners of the land.

Another way to visualize a conservation easement is to think of owning land as holding a bundle of rights. Each one of these rights represents landowners’ ability to do something with their property. Landowners may give up certain rights associated with their property through a document called a conservation easement while preserving others.

Why do people grant Conservation Easements?

People grant conservation easements to preserve the natural heritage their property represents. By granting a conservation easement, a landowner can be assured that the property will be protected and cared for forever, regardless of who owns the land in the future. The donation of an easement may also provide significant financial advantages to the donor.

What kind of financial advantages can result from granting a Conservation Easement?

Many landowners receive a federal income tax deduction for the gift of a Conservation Easement. The Internal Revenue Service allows a deduction if the easement is perpetual and donated “exclusively for conservation purposes.” The amount of the tax deduction is determined by the value of the conservation easement. In addition, the donor may have estate and property tax relief.

What activities are allowed on land protected by a Conservation Easement?

The activities allowed by a Conservation Easement depend on the landowner’s wishes and the characteristics of the property. In some instances, no further development is allowed on the land. In other circumstances some additional development is allowed, but the amount and type of development is less than would otherwise be allowed. Conservation easements may be designed to cover all or only a portion of a property. Every easement is unique, tailored to a particular landowner’s goals and their land.

My property has a great view. Would that be jeopardized by a conservation easement?

Views are an important part of a property’s value and protection of the view would be an area of discussion and agreement in negotiating a conservation easement.

Can the landowner still sell or give the property away?

The landowner continues to own the property after executing an easement. Therefore, the owner can sell, give or lease the property, as before. However, all future owners must abide by the easement.

Does the public have the right to access easement-protected property?

The public does not have access to property protected by an easement unless the original landowner who granted the easement specifically allows it. Most easement donors do not wish for, and therefore do not allow, public access to their property.

How long does an easement last, and who upholds it in the future?

To be eligible for a federal income tax deduction, the easement must be “perpetual,” that is, it must last forever. The Conservancy monitors the property, generally once a year, to assure that the easement is not being violated. If the easement has been breached the Conservancy will take whatever steps are necessary to uphold the terms of the easement, including legal action. Because of this obligation, the Conservancy may ask easement donors to make a financial contribution to the Conservancy’s Land Protection Fund. This fund ensures long-term monitoring and enforcement of every easement the Conservancy receives. Endowment donations accompanying a new easement are welcome but voluntary.

Who owns the Conservation Easement?

To qualify for a tax deduction, the easement must be donated to a unit of government or a qualifying conservation or historic preservation organization. The Fort Thomas Forest Conservancy qualifies as a federally recognized public charity under Internal Revenue Code Section 501(c)(3). It would hold the easement but not title to the land. That remains with the landowner.

Who owns and manages easement-protected land?

The landowner retains full rights to control and manage the property within the limits of the easement. In some cases, the easement agreement may include responsibilities for the Conservancy such as invasive species control. The Conservancy monitors the property to ensure compliance with the easement’s terms, but it has no other management responsibilities and exercises no direct control over other activities on the land.

Does the Easement have to cover all the landowner’s property?

No, some easements only cover a portion of the landowner’s property. Again, it depends on the landowner’s wishes.

What kind of land can be protected by a Conservation Easement?

To qualify for a tax deduction, IRS regulations require that the property have “significant” conservation values. This includes forests, wetland, endangered species habitat, scenic areas and more. The Conservancy also has its own criteria for accepting easements. At the invitation of the landowner, Conservancy staff will evaluate the property to determine whether or not it meets these criteria.