Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some of the most common questions that anyone who is considering protecting their land with a conservation easement is likely to have. We are the Oconee River Land Trust will be happy to answer any other questions that you have.
What is a conservation easement?
A conservation easement is a legal agreement between a landowner and a land trust that permanently protects the landowner’s property from inappropriate development and uses, while protecting the property’s conservation values. Land trust staff work with the property owner to identify the property’s conservation values and ensure that those values are protected while allowing some uses.
Why grant a conservation easement?
Landowners grant conservation easements to preserve their land from development while retaining private ownership. By granting an easement, the owner is assured that the property’s conservation values are protected forever. In order to encourage the use of conservation easements, there are also tax incentives available for qualifying projects.
What kind of property can be protected by easements?
Conservation easements can protect natural forests, wetlands, wildlife habitat, rivers and streams, farms, timber land, scenic areas, and historic sites.
How restrictive are easements?
Easements typically permit landowners to continue traditional uses of the land. For example, if the goal is to protect farmland, an easement may restrict subdivision and development while allowing for structures such as barns farming in designated areas. If the goal is to preserve a natural area, however, an easement may prohibit most activities that would alter the land’s present natural condition. In each instance, the landowner and land trust develop an easement that protects the property’s conservation values.
Is public access required?
Landowners choose whether to grant public access to their property. Public access is not required for easements that protect wildlife, plant habitats, or agricultural land. Easements created for recreation or educational purposes however, are required to provide some form of public access, such as hiking or fishing in specific locations or occasional guided tours.
How long do easements last?
Conservation easements are permanent and last forever. Easements are treated like property deeds and are recorded at the county records office so that all future owners are aware of the restrictions and are bound by them.
Can I build on my property?
Yes, but only as provided for in the easement. Most conservation easements specifically allow for a limited amount of building, in specified areas, so as to protect the property’s conservation values. For example, a farm conservation easement may allow for the construction of additional barns, or a residence.
What if there is a mortgage or security deed or other encumbrances on the property?
In order to ensure that the conservation easement protects the land in perpetuity, any lien, mortgage, security deed or other encumbrance must either be removed or subordinated to the conservation easement prior to the signing and recording of the easement.
Can a conservation easement be donated by will or after death?
Yes, after obtaining the agreement of the land trust, a landowner may provide for a conservation easement in their will. The executor or heirs of an estate may also choose to donate a conservation easement.
How is a conservation easement enforced?
The land trust is responsible for enforcing the easement’s provisions. To do this, we monitor the property once a year to ensure that the terms of the easement are followed. These visits also allow us to discuss any questions or plans that the landowner might have. If the conservation easement’s provisions have not been followed, then the land trust will seek remedies, including restoration of disturbed areas.
How do I know if my land qualifies for a conservation easement?
The land trust would be happy to discuss your land with you and what your plans are, in order to determine if a conservation easement is right for you. The land trust also will visit a property to learn more about the conservation values and your plans.
What happens on the initial property visit?
On the initial property visit, ORLT staff and the landowner will tour the property and discuss the landowner’s plans. In particular, we focus on the land’s conservation features, how the land is currently being used, future plans for the land, and any questions the landowner may have. If, at the end of this visit, the landowner wants to continue to pursue establishing a conservation easement, we develop a project summary for approval by the ORLT Board.
What happens if ORLT approves the project?
If the Board agrees that the project meets ORLT criteria, a formal letter is prepared that includes a summary of the proposed easement, the suggested donations. This letter also emphasizes the importance of landowners seeking their own legal and tax advice regarding the easement.
What does it cost to establish a conservation easement?
Costs to the landowner include:
· Landowner’s legal and tax advisors’ fees
· Title report fee
· Survey, if no existing survey
· Appraisal, if seeking a deduction
· Project Contribution to support the preparation of the Baseline Documentation Report and Conservation Easement. It is based on the size and complexity of the easement.
· Stewardship Contribution to cover some of the costs of annual monitoring visits of the property, reviews of construction plans, reviews of farm and forestry management plans, and any legal defense of easement provisions.
What if I change my mind?
We recognize that establishing a conservation easement is a significant decision. With that in mind, ORLT staff maintain an ongoing dialogue to answer any concerns. We respect the landowner’s right to halt the process at any time prior to the easement being signed.