A conservation easement is a legally enforceable agreement between a landowner and a qualified land conservation organization. The landowner permanently separates certain development rights from a parcel of land by granting the easement, and, in exchange, the conservation organization agrees to monitor the land annually to ensure that the conservation values are being protected.
The easement is recorded in the county records so that all future owners will learn about the restrictions when they obtain title reports. Most often, conservation easements are donated along with a monetary contribution to the land trust to partially cover the costs of long-term stewardship.
Conservation Agreements Can Vary
Voluntary conservation agreements vary widely. For example, an agreement to protect rare wildlife habitat might prohibit any development, while one to protect the scenic and historic values of a farm might allow continued farming and the building of additional agricultural structures. An agreement may apply to just a portion of the property, and need not require public access.
Charitable Mission Must Fit
A conservation donation requires not only a willing donor, but a qualified conservation organization to accept the donation. That organization needs to be able to show that the donation closely fits its particular charitable mission. A land trust will not accept a donation that does not fit its mission and purposes.
Limiting Development Potential
A voluntary conservation agreement can help a landowner pass land on intact to the next generation. By limiting the land’s development potential, the agreement lowers its market value, which in turn lowers estate tax. Whether the agreement is donated during life or by will, it can make a critical difference in the heirs’ ability to keep the land intact.
If a conservation agreement benefits the public by permanently protecting important conservation resources and meets other state and federal tax code requirements, it can qualify for Colorado tax credits or as a federal tax-deductible charitable donation. The amount of the donation is the difference between the land’s appraised value with the agreement and its value without the agreement.
To qualify as a charitable donation, a conservation agreement must be permanent and meet other specific requirements discussed at: www.lta.org/incentive-faqs. A landowner should get professional financial planning and legal advice before making such a major donation.