A conservation easement (“CE”) is a voluntary legal agreement between a landowner and a land trust that permanently restricts certain uses on the land in order to protect the land’s conservation values. Natural forests, wetlands, trails, scenic open space, working farms, timber tracts, and historic sites can all be protected by a CE. The CE will set out what can and cannot occur on the property and provides for the land trust’s ability to enforce the agreement. Once signed by the landowner and the land trust, the CE is recorded at the county courthouse and binds all future landowners. With a CE, the landowner continues to own the protected property and may use it, according to the limits of the CE.
Oconee River Land Trust (ORLT), a land conservation nonprofit, was founded in 1993, with an initial focus on conserving land along the two rivers that flow through Athens, GA (the North and Middle Oconee Rivers) in order to help the protect the rivers’ water quality and to aid the fledgling local greenway effort. Over the next few years, ORLT’s focus expanded to protecting land and waterways throughout Georgia, including natural forests, wetlands, swamps, and working farms and forests.
Permanently conserved land provides a number of public benefits, including the preservation of wildlife habitat, supporting communities health and well-being through recreation, contributing to clean water and air, providing scenic views, and ensuring access to farms and forest products.
ORLT uses a number of approaches to protect land. Our primary tool is to work with private landowners who donate a conservation easement (a permanent, voluntary agreement). We have also accepted donations of important conservation land, and worked with local governments to acquire land with grants.