Conservation Easements 101
If you ask conservation easement expert and tax attorney Stephen J. Small why people choose to place conservation easements on their land, he will give you the same answer every time. They love their land, they love their land and they love their land! While some may be impressed by the possible tax deductions, most just want to see their land protected and leave a legacy of sorts for future generations. Private conservation is critical to achieving both NYS and the nation’s goal of protecting 30% of our lands and waters by 2030. To do our part in achieving this important goal, the Land Alliance put together our own 30 x 30 Community Conservation campaign. We have identified more than 8,000 acres of conservation worthy land in our community that may be eligible for private conservation. Thus far, the Land Alliance has notified over 250 residents in 12 villages about the conservation value of their land. We think it would be useful to give our members a brief explanation of conservation easements. They are one of the best ways to protect our land and water and options you or a family member might want to consider. Landowners who wish to protect their land for its scenic, historic and/or natural qualities can use a conservation easement to restrict the type, amount and location of future development. The easement agreement is private and voluntary. It is a more permanent way to protect land than relying on existing government regulations such as zoning and critical environmental area designations. A conservation easement can be an essential tool for passing land to the next generation. By removing the land’s development potential, the easement lowers its market value, which in turn lowers the estate tax. This can make a difference in an heir’s ability to keep the land intact. A qualified conservation easement may also be eligible for a significant federal tax deduction. What is a Conservation Easement? A conservation easement is a voluntary legal agreement to preserve land in perpetuity. The easement agreement spells out a landowner’s commitment to protect the existing conservation values of some or all of their property by restricting specific development and future use. With an easement in place, the landowner still owns and controls the property, with only the specific uses/rights that protect the encumbered area as restrictions. A landowner may sell the land, but the conservation restrictions will remain in place forever. A conservation easement may be held only by a qualified land trust or governmental entity. It does not give the public any rights to the land unless the landowner decides to include such rights in the easement. How to Place a Conservation Easement There are several steps in creating a conservation easement. In our community, they begin with a landowner’s discussing their intent to preserve their land with the Land Alliance. As a preliminary step, our team will visit the property to evaluate the potential easement’s conservation value and discuss the landowner’s goals. If it makes sense, the next step is for the Land Alliance’s Board of Trustees to approve the project. Assuming Board approval, an outline of the remaining process is as follows: 1. Landowners should discuss the transaction with their advisors. The Land Alliance facilitates the transaction, but the landowner retains their own advisors, such as an attorney, accountant, appraiser and surveyor. The Land Alliance is not allowed to give tax or legal advice, although we can provide a donor with potential scenarios for both Federal and State tax benefits. 2. Once the landowner and the Land Alliance have reached an agreement, the landowner and/or their counsel should do the following: Find an accurate survey of the property or hire a surveyor to make one. An accurate survey will be important for the appraiser to determine the metes and bounds of the land to be conserved. Retain a qualified appraiser to determine the current market value of the land and the value after the easement is placed. Under IRS regulations an appraisal must occur no earlier than 60 days prior to the date of the contribution of the easement and no later than the due date of the income tax return on which a deduction for the gift is first claimed or reported. Initiate a title search to ensure there are no encumbrances on the donor’s land. The landowner’s attorney or the Land Alliance can initiate a title search. Any mortgage on the property must be subordinated to the conservation easement so that the provisions of the conservation easement cannot be eliminated if the mortgage is foreclosed. 3. Preparation of the first draft of the conservation easement agreement. The Land Alliance or the donor’s counsel may prepare the draft conservation easement. The Land Alliance will prepare baseline documentation. Baseline documentation includes boundaries, important natural resources, structures, clear descriptions of reserved rights and prohibited uses. The baseline establishes the ecological value and condition of the property at the time of the gift and becomes an exhibit to the conservation easement. It is required by tax law. The landowner will sign this document at closing. 4. Once the terms of the easement are agreed to, the landowner must provide the Land Alliance with copies of an appraisal and survey. The Land Alliance will provide the landowner with a copy of the baseline for their review. Once all documents have been agreed upon a formal closing will be scheduled. 5. After the signing and recording of the conservation easement the Land Alliance begins its stewardship program. A trained member of the Land Alliance staff will visit the property at least once each year and document that the terms of the easement are being upheld. The Land Alliance is required by law to have the resources necessary to uphold the terms of the conservation easement restrictions. We generally ask the donor to make a one-time, voluntary contribution to the long-term stewardship of the property. On average, the amount is $10,000, but amounts may vary depending on the size and complexity of the easement. 6. After closing, the easement agreement will be recorded with the appropriate governmental agencies. If the landowner intends to seek tax benefits, they must file necessary tax forms. The person making the contribution must file an IRS Form 8283, Non-Cash Charitable Contributions, along with their tax return for the year in which the gift was made and together with a copy of the appraisal dated no earlier than 60 days prior to the date of the contribution. Both the Land Alliance and the appraiser must sign the IRS Form 8283. In order to ensure the accurate representation of the value of gifts, the Land Alliance will not sign the IRS Form 8283 if it has reservations about the stated value of the donation. We hope this brief explanation of conservation easements and the process of creating such is helpful in your consideration of ways to protect our natural areas while keeping land in private hands. For further questions please contact the Land Alliance and we would be pleased to provide more detail. As easement propertyFederal Income Tax Benefit Scenario Federal Income Tax Benefits Assume a landowner has a 10-acre property in a village that is zoned for 2-acre subdivision. The owner chooses to place a conservation easement on the vacant 8-acre parcel. The parcel has conservation value because it is in the middle of the special groundwater protection area (as designated by the State of New York) and is immediately adjacent to already preserved parkland. Two appraised values must be determined: The current value of the entire property (existing fair market value) = $5,000,000 The value of the property after the easement is in place = $1,000,000 The value of the conservation easement = $4,000,000 (the difference between 1. and 2.) Under current law, there is a federal tax deduction for donating a conservation easement. Under the enhanced conservation easement incentive, the donor is allowed to deduct the entire conservation easement value, up to 50% of the landowner’s adjusted gross income, from federal income tax in a given year, and can carry forward any remaining deduction for a total of 16 years. A simplified example follows: Conservation Easement Value = $4,000,000 Landowner/Donor’s AGI = $500,000 50% of AGI =$250,000 Under the existing conservation easement incentive, a donor is able to deduct $250,000 of the $4,000,000 conservation easement value the year of donation and will be able to carry forward the remaining deduction of $3,750,000 over an additional fifteen years. Assuming the donor’s AGI stays the same over the next 15 years, the donor would continue to be able to take $250,000 in deductions each subsequent year which, in this example, generates the full value of the easement donation.
Long Island Water Quality Update
The summer of 2022 felt like a long string of bad news. Scientists from SUNY Stony Brook published their 2022 assessment of water quality in Long Island’s estuaries in 2022. The news is not good. During the months of June through September, every major bay and estuary across Long Island experienced fish kills, algal blooms and oxygen-starved dead zones. Last year, Nassau County and the U.S. Geological Survey completed a Subwatershed study that analyzed surface and groundwater pollution with updated watersheds maps. The study found that excess nitrogen from outdated septic tanks and cesspools is the main cause of harmful algal blooms and fish kills in our bays and harbors. Nitrogen in household sewage seeps into groundwater and ultimately into bays, harbors and estuaries (or, in some cases, is directly discharged into surface waters). We are extremely concerned by septic system pollution, as we all sit on top of underground aquifers where fresh water replenishes into a deep recharge aquifer. Any untreated water that flows into the aquifer will eventually make its way into our drinking water. Based on the study, select subwatersheds on the north shore of Nassau County will need to reduce nitrogen by 60% to hit water quality goals. These much-needed nitrogen reductions can be achieved by upgrading 20,000 existing septic systems with clean water technology. Clean water septic systems convert nitrogen in wastewater into a harmless gas by harnessing natural processes. These systems are so effective they can remove up to 95% of nitrogen from wastewater when compared to conventional septic tanks. Removing excess nitrogen from the environment will help restore our commercial fishing, boating and recreation industries and improve drinking water for generations to come. If you would like to see clean water technology at work, stop by the Land Alliance’s new HQ where a Wastewater Works, Inc. system will be installed before year end. Upgrading your current septic system may be easier than you thought. In Nassau County, grants are available to cover up to 95% of the costs needed to upgrade septic tanks and cesspools with clean water septic systems. Through the Nassau County Soil and Water Conservation District S.E.P.T.I.C. program, you may be eligible for as much as $20,000 to upgrade. For more information on eligibility requirements and how to apply, visit nassaucountyny.gov/SepticReplace. Community members who have already installed new clean water septic systems have good things to say. Liz Stanton of Bayville reports “Our system is better than we could have hoped, and we have peace of mind knowing we are doing our part in keeping Bayville’s water clean”. New 2022 map shows record number of fish kills, dead zones and toxic tides that intensified with the heat of summer
Preview our 2023 Walks in the Woods
2023 Walk in the Woods Preview Saturday, January 21st, 1:00 am – Sisters of St. Joseph Brentwood Led by Abby Bezrutczyk, Bill Jacobs and Melody Penny Join the Long Island Invasive Species Management area to learn about winter tree and shrub identification as we explore the diversity of both native and invasive plants along the property’s cosmic trail. Sunday, February 19th, 2:30 pm – Shore Road Sanctuary, Cold Spring Harbor Led by Gwen Ugan Don your citizen scientist hat and join Gwen the weekend of the Great Backyard Bird Count to survey winter waterfowl in Cold Spring Harbor. Saturday, March 25th, 11:00 am – Matheson Meadows, Lloyd Neck Led by Richard Weir and Lisa de Guzman Visit Matheson Meadows with a dynamic duo when you will find egg cases – first discovered here by Lisa – for an insect unusual in these parts. Richard, a marvelous teacher and expert horticulturist, will enlighten you about the Meadows’ diverse plant community. Saturday, April 29th, 9:30 am – Williams Preserve, Lattingtown Led by Peter Meleady and Jane Jackson Peter and Jane will lead a tour of our newest preserve – a charming 4.5-acre property consisting of mature native trees, emerging meadow and freshwater pond – and discussion of habitat restoration underway. Saturday, May 12th, 9:00 am – Sound View Dunes Park, Southold Led by John Turner Explore Sound View Dunes Park’s 57 acres of beach, dune, wetland and forest habitats with one of Long Island’s most loved and respected naturalists. The focus will be on birds during their spring migration. Friday, June 16th, 6:00 pm – Hofstra Arboretum, Hempstead Led by Mike Runkel Explore Hofstra University’s plant communities as Mike discusses how a warming climate plays into decisions about shifts in heat hardiness zones and what species to plant here on Long Island. Thursday, June 29th, 6:00 pm – Youngs Farm, Old Brookville Led by Tim Dooley As harvest time approaches, Tim will lead us on a tour of one of Nassau County’s most treasured family farms. Saturday, July 15th, 10:00 am – Quogue Wildlife Refuge, Quogue Led by Matt Kaelin Quogue Wildlife Refuge is home to all three types of carnivorous plants found on Long Island. Matt will introduce us to these and other curious species with a presentation on carnivorous plants and their habitats and a tour of the bog at the Refuge. Saturday, August 5th, 10:00 am – Hallock State Park, Riverhead Led by MaryLaura Lamont in partnership with Long Island Botanical Society MaryLaura will introduce us to the 18 species, some now rare, of native Long Island wildflowers planted in Hallock’s garden. They all attract a huge variety of pollinating bees, butterflies and other insects. We will then stroll to the Sound for a look at beach and cliff plants. $8.00 parking fee Tuesday, August 29th, 7:00 pm – Humes Preserve, Mill Neck Led by Peter Martin When the full moon is nigh, Peter will lead an exploration across Humes’s meadow when we may find migrating birds, crepuscular and nocturnal mammals and who knows what else? Saturday, September 23rd, 6:00 pm – Wawapek, Cold Spring Harbor Led by Meghan Leverock Meghan who manages the property, will tour its habitat restoration and formal garden and then lead us through the preserve’s woodland. The tour will end at our newly installed Ralf Lange Garden and restored greenhouse. Saturday, October 7th, 9:00 am – Laurel Hill Farms, Cove Neck Led by Enrico Nardone, in partnership with Seatuck Environmental Association Join Seatuck’s Enrico (and friends!) for a walk at Laurel Hill Farms, which includes some of the best North Shore deciduous forest in Nassau County. The changing foliage of early autumn and the fall bird migration should provide plenty of interest, and the topography will ensure some exercise! Saturday, November 18th, 11:00 am – Muttontown Preserve, East Norwich Led by Glen Malings Afraid you’re relying too much on GPS? Want to practice your map reading skills? Orienteering is like a treasure hunt in the woods using a map to find controls (box shaped flags) hanging from trees. We’ll give instruction and then you can go out alone or with friends. The course should take about an hour, if you don’t get lost. Events are subject to change. Please check our website (www.northshorelandalliance.org/events) for updates.
Williams Preserve Progress
Our first order of business at the charming Williams Preserve in Lattingtown, donated by Mary and Tim Williams, was to mow the areas along the driveway to facilitate access for maintenance. We then conducted an initial clearing of what will become a tiny parking area, to be installed once we have secured local approval. Since our last newsletter we began the long process of tackling extensive growth of undesirable vegetation throughout the property. A large volume of vines and invasive shrubs has been cleared mechanically, rescuing a number of native trees and shrubs (including a statuesque oak leaf hydrangea) in the process. In addition, a wall that was part of a formal garden designed by Ferruccio Vitale was uncovered. Much of the remaining clearing needs to be done by hand to protect the native vegetation that remains and access hard to reach areas along sensitive slopes and pond and stream edges. Coincidentally, Ferrucio Vitale also designed the formal garden at the Rumpus House at the Humes property. Umberto Innocenti began his work as a landscape architect at the firm of Ferruccio Vitale and Alfred Geiffert, Jr. He left it in 1931 to start the firm of Innocenti & Webel which, over the following decades, became the preferred landscape architects for the Humes Estate. Since the initial clearing was completed, our dedicated volunteers have removed vines by hand from the countless mature, majestic trees that are found throughout the property. They are beginning to remove invasive shrubs and vines from along the creek that goes from the property boundary and under the driveway into the pond. The spring ephemeral trout lily was observed on the bank of the creek in the spring; we hope to find more of this and perhaps other spring ephemeral’s as the property’s restoration continues. The creek is also lined with native jewel weed, which supports hummingbirds, so we are excited to learn more about the wildlife here. A highlight of the work our workers and volunteers has done was the uncovering of a stone staircase installed decades ago to connect the future meadow at the top of the property to the pond below. While it will require a little “engineering” to fully make the connection and become safely navigable, it is a discovery we are very happy about! We are working to develop a phased habitat restoration plan that will map out several natural communities – meadow, grassland, freshwater pond, stream and woodland – with implementation to begin next spring. We welcome volunteers and look forward to the time when St. John’s Church parishioners and summer camp attendees can take a quiet stroll or eat a sandwich by the pond. With many thanks to the Williams family for their generous gift.
Beech Leaf Disease: Search For a Treatment
Last year Land Alliance stewardship staff began documenting a worrying condition at our preserves. We witnessed a distinctive striping pattern along the leaves of American beech trees. When standing under a tree and looking up at the leaves, we observed dark bands across them between leaf veins, sometimes alternating with the green leaf color. We had heard about Beech Leaf Disease (BLD); now we were finding it in our preserves – first in the Humes Stroll Garden, then in the Humes Preserve, Cushman Woods, Fox Hollow, Wawapek. And everywhere. Eventually those leaves curled up and dried out. What is Beech Leaf Disease and Its Impact BLD first documented in New York in 2018 and in Suffolk County in 2020, is caused by an exotic nematode (Litylenchus crenatae ssp.mccannii), a worm that feeds on beech leaves. The condition can cause tree mortality over time. Many of us are aware of the devastating impacts of American chestnut blight and Dutch elm disease on native tree populations, but few of us may have lived through the early stages of ravaging such majestic trees. To be experiencing a new disease whose impacts may wipe out entire populations of our cherished beeches – a dominant canopy species in so many of our Long Island woodlands – is sobering. The disease is a serious threat to imperiled community types found on the north shore of Long Island. There is no known treatment for it, but thankfully, research is underway to find one. Search for a Treatment The NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) – Suffolk County and the Long Island Horticultural Research & Extension Center (LIHREC) recently submitted a new project proposal for a Forest Service Pesticide Impact Assessment Program (FSPIAP) grant. It would provide funding to conduct trials and evaluation of the effectiveness of several pesticides and a fertilizer over a three-year period. As one of three land trust cooperators (in addition to Peconic Land Trust and Henry L. Ferguson Land Trust) the Land Alliance would provide access to American beech populations at one or more of our nature preserves. Some promising results of trials of a phosphonate fertilizer have been documented. The trials were conducted on saplings by researchers in Ohio, where BLD symptoms were documented in 2018, and by Bartlett Research Labs of the fungicide Broadform to reduce nematode levels. There also have been successful trials. While Long Island is one of the worst hit areas of the State, given the disease’s recent appearance there has been little time to find a treatment here. CCE – Suffolk County and LIHREC set up monitoring stations in eastern Long Island in 2019 and in 2020 began trials of experimental pesticide treatments. Peconic Land Trust, with a grant through the New York State Conservation Partnership Program, began working with CCE to conduct trials of a fungicide and two insecticides earlier this year. The FSPIAP funding would be used to continue these research trials and launch additional trials of Broadform and the fertilizer used in Ohio at Henry L. Ferguson Land Trust and Land Alliance preserves. Data collection will be carried out according to the USDA Forest Service BLD long-term monitoring protocol. Visual observational data will be done in May and early September. Leaf samples from each of the treated trees will be collected in early fall for nematode extraction to gauge effectiveness of the pesticide treatments under the guidance of Margery Daughtrey of the LIHREC. Time is of the essence to find effective treatment of Beech Leaf Disease. The Land Alliance is cautiously hopeful that this important research will contribute to preserving beech trees, whether in New York or beyond our region. Many thanks to the DEC’s Jessica Cancilliere and CCE-Suffolk County’s Mina Vescera for submitting and sharing their grant application and to Margery Daughtrey for project coordination.
- Recycling Matters
- Charitable Conservation Easement Program Integrity Act Signed Into Law
- Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation Grant for the Historic Tavern House
- North Shore Land Alliance Protects Water with Hydro-Action Clean Water Septic Technology
- Conservation Easements 101
- Long Island Water Quality Update
- Preview our 2023 Walks in the Woods
- Williams Preserve Progress
- Beech Leaf Disease: Search For a Treatment
- Seed Collecting at Humes Preserve with North Country Garden Club