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Green Horizons

Volume 21, Number 1
January 2017

Land Management

Protecting Land for Future Generations with a Conservation Easement

By Rebecca Landewe | The Nature Conservancy

Conservation easements are one of the most powerful, effective tools available to private landowners for the conservation of land. Collectively, private landowners have permanently conserved millions of acres of land across the globe, providing myriad conservation benefits for wildlife, water quality, and local communities, all while continuing to own and use their property.

Private property rights in the U.S. allow landowners to exercise numerous rights such as cutting timber, subdividing the property and building homes. Through a conservation easement, a landowner can voluntarily agree to forego one or more activities to protect certain qualities of their land. Conservation easements are used to protect a variety of values, including open space, rare habitats, water quality, historical significance, scenic values, recreational trails, or other features of the land. Every easement is specifically tailored to the particular land being protected as well as to the unique circumstances of the landowners.

A conservation easement is a legal document filed and recorded in the public deed records, and as such, it is not easily amended or terminated. It remains with the land and applies to all owners of the land for the duration of the easement, which may be term-limited (e.g., 25 years) or in perpetuity. A qualified nonprofit organization or government agency (known as the easement holder) is responsible for monitoring and ensuring the conservation values are protected by current and future owners.

Each easement holding organization or agency has different goals, and as such, it is important for landowners to discuss their goals with the potential easement holder to determine if they align. A conservation easement can include almost any kind of restriction agreed to by the landowner and the easement holder. Perpetual easements ensure permanent protection of the property and can often be crafted to accommodate a landowner's long-term goals and vision for their property. The landowner retains all property rights except the ones specifically restricted by the conservation easement. The easement can apply to the entire property or to only a portion, such as the land along a stream or other important natural feature (e.g., cave). The landowner still owns the land and can use it in ways consistent with the restrictions. For example, the easement may restrict subdivision and development, but the landowner may continue residential use, hunting, fishing, timber cutting or grazing management. The landowner can also sell the land or leave it by will and restrict public access. In this way, easements allow continued use by the owner while ensuring the long-term conservation of the land.

When a landowner donates a conservation easement, the value of the easement may be considered a tax-deductible charitable donation and could result in tax savings for the landowner. Though less common, it may be possible for a landowner to sell a conservation easement, which would provide a direct economic benefit to the landowner (e.g., to a conservation organization that needs it to protect land important to its mission).

One important reason families consider conservation easements is to reduce the tax burden on future generations. By restricting certain uses (e.g., development), this lowers the market value and in turn the estate tax burden for family heirs. Working closely with a tax advisor or estate planner can help landowners evaluate various options for passing their land on to the next generation, and a conservation easement may be a helpful tool.

In Missouri, there are numerous organizations working with private landowners to protect a variety of resources, whether that be trails, open space, water quality or forestland. The Nature Conservancy in Missouri has an easement program aimed at protecting clean water and conserving working forests on lands that help sustain the Current and Jacks Fork rivers and their tributaries. The goal is to keep working lands working through easements that allow managed timber harvests and promote the use of best management practices. Many landowners are already demonstrating their stewardship to family, friends, and neighbors. A conservation easement allows them to permanently demonstrate their conservation stewardship by protecting their land for future generations.

For more information about conservation easements, visit

[excerpted from A Landowner's Guide to Conservation Options -]. For more information, contact:

Rebecca Landewe, The Nature Conservancy, Van Buren, MO. 573-323-8790

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