Land Protection Q&A
There are several. Local land trusts such as the Merrill Linn Conservancy can work with a landowner to produce a conservation easement of his/her property. Property can be offered to land trusts or other protective agencies as a charitable donation or through a bargain sale. Farmland owners can consider agricultural land preservation through their county’s agricultural land preservation program by either competing for reimbursement funds or by making a donation of their land to the program. The comments that follow will focus primarily on conservation easements through land trusts such as the Linn Conservancy.
This is a conveyance of property rights. Entering into a conservation easement with a qualified organization (the holder) is a voluntary action on the part of the owner of a property. It is an interest in real property that limits certain uses of the property for the advancement of conservation purposes. It provides the holder the right to uphold its terms. Once completed, this conveyance rides with the property deed in perpetuity. All owners and future owners of the property are bound by the terms of the conveyance the terms of which cannot removed from the deed.
The key thing to remember is that entering into a conservation easement is a VOLUNTARY action on the part of the property owner. The common use of the term easement suggests a taking of one’s property by, for example, a utility company needing a right of way across the site. While an owner might be monetarily compensated for his/her loss, there is little or no choice as to the fate of the property.
You own the property. The property remains in private hands. A land trust is not permitted to own property on which it holds a conservation easement. The owner retains all rights to the property except those he/she voluntarily gives up in the conservation easement document. Subsequent owners have the same rights and are bound by the same restrictions.
No. Once you or other interested parties leave the property or the area, there may be no one with sufficient interest in the property to enforce the restrictions you have placed on the land. With a conservation easement, you can be assured that the easement holding organization has (1) a long term interest in enforcing and (2) a duty to enforce the terms of the document.
No. We have found that some owners agree to have public access to all or part of their properties and some allow none. Some will make allowances for special events/groups upon request for permission.
No. Portions may be left out of the agreement. Furthermore, different portions of the property can be assigned different management strategies and, therefore, have different restrictions applied to each.
Yes. The Pa Land Trust Association (PaLTA) has developed a model document that the Linn Conservancy uses to prepare these agreements. Remember that the model is subject to negotiation between the land owner and land trust representatives. The goal is to define terms that are suitable to all parties. The model helps us arrive at terms mutually agreeable to the owner and land trust. Visit the PaLTA website ( www.conserveland.org ) and search “model conservation easement document.”
This will depend on the course you choose to protect the land. For example, a survey and/or an appraisal might be required. Some of those costs could be refundable depending upon the agency you work with on your project. In addition, the Conservancy will require a donation to be put toward the ongoing monitoring of the property and legal defense or other items. That amount can vary depending upon the complexity of the conservation easement.
This depends on the complexities of the agreement. It will likely take at least 3 months, but might extend to a year or more.
It is the obligation of the easement holder (land trust/conservancy) to enforce the terms of the easement. This is done by annual monitoring of the property to assure terms are being observed and respected and taking appropriate action to address any concerns. The holder would also be responsible for investigating any possible violations of the easement terms at any time they would be noticed/reported.
Yes. Pennsylvania courts have upheld the validity of conservation easements.
It might have an impact on your federal taxes. The IRS has allowed certain deductions based on the value of your property. The difference in its value without vs with the terms of a conservation easement can, in some cases, be applied as a charitable gift against your federal taxes. Changes in tax laws can change without notice, therefore, such matters should be discussed with your tax advisor.
Yes. New owners will be bound by the terms of the conservation easement.
The experience locally in Union County has been that farm properties with conservation easements on average are not selling for less than those without. However, to a real estate developer the value would likely be reduced since a property with a conservation easement would have its development rights restricted.
Your county conservation district, US Fish & Wildlife Service, National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), PA Game Commission, PA Bureau of Forestry, county extension offices.