A Gift for All Time
Diligence, Donations Save Land
Photography: Courtesy of The Wood River Land Trust
Map of Blaine County: Silver Creek Preserve in rose, conservation easements in blue.
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Where private property is concerned, whether and how a piece of land will be conserved is usually dictated by the circumstances of the property and its owner.
Most properties are not appropriate for conservation; zoning designation (itself a conservation tool) often has precluded this. But when a parcel is suitable, the first tool out of the kit more often than not is a conservation easement_—also described as a voluntary conservation agreement.
“It [a conservation easement] is the most effective and most powerful mechanism we have to save desirable tracts of land from undesirable consequences,” says Matt Miller of The Nature Conservancy.
A conservation easement is a legally binding agreement voluntarily initiated by a landowner with either a government agency or a qualified conservation organization (the easement holder) and designed to restrict in perpetuity certain land(s) to a set of mutually-agreed-upon uses and conditions. Prime candidates for such easements are farmlands, significant natural habitat, scenic open spaces, areas of historic importance and properties with valuable or critical natural resources such as timber or water.
The power of the conservation easement as a tool lies with its versatility and permanence; the agreement can be tailored to meet the needs of the owner at the same time as it preserves the land’s intrinsic value through restrictions that are deemed perpetual. The effectiveness of the arrangement derives from its potential monetary reward. A conservation easement can be sold or donated, but in either case a financial benefit can accrue to the landowner.
Most conservation easements are donated. All 22 easements in The Nature Conservancy’s Silver Creek area, for instance, were donated, and the great majority of easements handled by the local restorative and conservation-inclined Wood River Land Trust are donations. Depending on the importance and nature of the resources being protected, easement donations can qualify as current tax-deductible events, will normally reduce estate taxes, sometimes significantly, and can lower property taxes. The determining factor in all these potential benefits is the officially appraised difference in the value of the land before and after an easement is placed on it. The same factor is also the basis of an easement sale, but the financial repercussions of a sale can affect more parties. >>>