What is a Conservation Easement?

Conservation easements convey a legal interest in land where a landowner gifts or sells rights to a qualified entity such as a land trust. The landowner retains full ownership with restrictions on activities that they can engage in on the property. The landowner and the land trust negotiate the restrictions and limitations that will be placed on the property. Conversation easements are voluntary negative easements, legally binding restrictions on the use of land for conservation, environmental, or historic purposes. They are granted in perpetuity and apply to the land regardless of who may own it in the future.

Landowners can sell or bequeath property that is protected with a conservation easement. Conservation easements can assist landowners in protecting their land, wildlife habitat, scenic areas or historic buildings. They are designed to meet the site-specific needs of the individual landowner and land trust. Conservation easements may also provide landowners with gift and property tax benefits.


Conservation easements may involve expenses for items such as legal fees, survey and appraisal costs or other professional services. They are not a one-size-fits-all proposition. Landowners need to thoroughly understand the conservation easement and the benefits and restrictions prior to signing. Many landowners did not have a full understanding of what they were doing and are now remorseful of having placed a conservation easement on their property.

Conservation easements are difficult to draft and expensive to monitor and enforce over time.
The land trust also must monitor the property to ensure that the landowner is not violating its terms. Landowners are notified when the land trust will be inspecting the property and the land trust has a legal right to enter the property for this purpose. The land trust must also defend the conservation easement if legal action must be taken.

Conservation easements will become an increasingly important conservation tool in the 21st century and will have significant benefits including better water and air quality as well preservation of natural resources. Landowners will hopefully educate themselves about the benefits and limitations of conservation easements in order to make informed decisions. It is vital that landowners have a full understanding of what a conservation easement does and does not allow them to do. Otherwise, it is a recipe for conflict between the landowner and the land trust. If you are looking for a ranch for sale and find a property that you like that has a conservation easement, make sure to seek a professional who has experience with conservation easements so that you have a full understanding of it before you purchase the property.

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