What is a conservation easement?

A conservation easement is a restriction placed on a piece of property to protect the resourcesnatural or manmadeassociated with the parcel.

The individual landowner, in conjunction with a government agency or a private conservation organization, such as a land trust, voluntarily either sells or donates a conservation easement on the parcel and signs a legally binding agreement that prohibits certain types or amounts of development (residential and / or commercial) from taking place, while retaining title to the parcel.

This land protection technique is based upon the legal definition of land ownership, which bestows a "bundle of rights" on the property owner. By placing a conservation easement on the land, the owner agrees to give up some of those rights, since such an easement restricts development. Examples of easements include utility easements, access easements, and mining easements. A qualified recipient organization holds the easement and is required to monitor and enforce the adherence of current and future property owners to the terms of the easement.

Conservation easements may be placed on some parts of a property and not others and may allow the owner to retain certain rights with respect to the property, such as the continuation of farming, cutting of firewood, and even building an additional house. The owner retains all other property rights, such as the right to lease or sell the property and the right to privacy (though some government-initiated easements, such as farmland protection programs, may allow the party holding the conservation easement to enter the property to monitor its management obligations).

In most cases, donating a conservation easement makes the landowner eligible for certain tax benefits. These include a potential reduction in federal income tax and estate tax, as well as a lower property tax assessment.

from Common Groundwork: A Practical Guide to Protecting Rural and Urban Land by Joseph and Mary Chadbourne (© 2000). This informative handbook was a joint project of the Western Reserve Resource Conservation and Development Council, Ohio Office of Farmland Preservation, Seventh Generation, and Chadbourne & Chadbourne Inc.
To order a copy, call 440-543-7303.


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