What is a conservation easement?

A conservation easement (“CE”) is a voluntary legal agreement between a landowner and a land trust (or government agency) 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.  The CE, once signed by the landowner and the land trust, 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. The landowner does not have to provide public access.

Conservation easements vary depending on the landowner’s wishes and the conservation values of the property. For example, a CE for a property containing rare wildlife habitat might prohibit any development except for trails, while a CE on a farm might allow continued farming and the building of additional agricultural structures.

 

​There are many benefits to placing a conservation easement on your land. Perhaps most importantly, it is a way for conservation-minded landowners to permanently protect the land they love and ensure their vision for the land is carried out, benefiting future generations. Landowners who donate a CE know that natural forests will continue to host native plants and animals, farmland will continue to be able to be farmed, and the water quality of streams and rivers will be enhanced. The land remains privately owned, and can be left to heirs or sold. 

There are also potential tax benefits for donating a conservation easement as well. Conservation easements may qualify for a federal charitable tax deduction and/or the Georgia Conservation Tax Credit. Conservation easements also may reduce property taxes and estate taxes.

 

Conservation easements are an important way to permanently protect private land, and landowners must decide if donating one is right for their land and their family. Landowners considering donating a conservation easement should always consult with professional legal and tax advisors as well.