What is a Conservation Easement?

The most common way land trusts protect land is with a tool known as a conservation easement. A conservation easement is a voluntary legal agreement that protects a property and its unique conservation attributes by permanently restricting specific development and related uses of the land that have detrimental impacts. Conservation easements allow landowners to continue to own, use, sell or bequeath their land as they wish.  Every conservation easement is unique (no two easements are alike) and subject to terms agreed upon by the grantor (landowner) and grantee (qualified conservation organization).

Why would I want to give up any of my property rights?

One of the primary reasons for utilizing a conservation easement is to protect the condition and future uses of the land.  By granting a conservation easement on your property to the Land Alliance, you are ensuring that your property will remain in its existing state for generations to come.   In addition, there are potential tax benefits available to individuals granting conservation easements.

What tax benefits can I expect from granting Conservation Easement?

A donated conservation easement may qualify for a federal tax deduction if the easement is 1) perpetual; 2) held by a qualified conservation organization such as the North Shore Land Alliance; and, 3) serves a valid “conservation purpose,” including (a) the preservation of land areas for outdoor recreation by, or the education of, the general public, (b) the protection of relatively natural habitat of fish, wildlife, or plants, or similar ecosystem, (c) the preservation of certain open space (including farmland and forest land), and (d) the preservation of historically important land area or a certified historic structure.  A qualified conservation easement must also be valued by a “qualified appraisal.”

The current federal tax incentives allow non-farmers to deduct up to 30% of a landowner’s adjusted gross income (AGI) in the year of the gift with an additional 5 year carry forward.  Qualified farmers are eligible for a 50% federal tax deduction.  Congress passed an enhanced conservation easement tax incentive that allowed non-farmers to deduct up to 50% of their AGI with a 15 year carry forward (qualified farmers were eligible for 100% of their AGI), but the tax incentive expired at the end of 2013.  To learn more about the enhanced tax incentive and other national conservation campaigns and efforts please visit the natural Land Trust Alliance website www.lta.org.

Other potentially significant tax benefits for donors of conservation easements include an annual New York State tax credit (25% of county, town and school district property taxes, up to $5,000 per year), the reduction of estate tax liability by lowering the value of the land for estate tax purposes, and the possible reduction of local property taxes.

While we will work closely with you during the entire donation process, the Land Alliance does not provide landowners with legal or tax advice.  We urge interested landowners to retain their own advisors, including but not limited to attorneys and accountants.

How do I get started in conserving my property? 

Please contact Stephen Searl stephen@northshorelandalliance.org, Director of Land Conservation, to learn more about conservation easements and our other conservation tools.