The easement is either voluntarily donated or sold by the landowner and constitutes a legally binding agreement that limits certain types of uses or prevents development from taking place on the land in perpetuity while the land remains in private hands.
Conservation easements protect land for future generations while allowing owners to retain many private property rights and to live on and use their land, at the same time potentially providing them with tax benefits.
In a conservation easement, a landowner voluntarily agrees to sell or donate certain rights associated with his or her property – often the right to subdivide or develop – and a private organization or public agency agrees to hold the right to enforce the landowner's promise not to exercise those rights. In essence, the rights are forfeited and no longer exist.
An easement selectively targets only those rights necessary to protect specific conservation values, such as water quality or migration routes, and is individually tailored to meet a landowner's needs. Because the land remains in private ownership, with the remainder of the rights intact, an easement property continues to provide economic benefits for the area in the form of jobs, economic activity and property taxes.
A conservation easement is legally binding, whether the property is sold or passed on to heirs. Because use is permanently restricted, land subject to a conservation easement may be worth less on the open market than comparable unrestricted and developable parcels. Sometimes conservation easements will enable the landowner to qualify for tax benefits in compliance with Internal Revenue Service rules.
Learn more about conservation easements and their benefits.
The idea that a landowner can convey certain rights on his or her land while retaining other rights is rooted in hundreds of years of English common law, on which the U.S. legal system is based. Conservation easements, however, are a more recent creation. Explore the evolution of conservation easements.
Conservation Easements: Conserving Land, Water and a Way of Life
(PDF, 200 KB, new window)
Conservation Easement Working Group Report
(PDF, 234 KB, new window)
March 01, 2011