Conservation Servitude: Louisiana's tool for land conservation

What is a Conservation Servitude?
 
A conservation servitude, known as a conservation easement in other states, is a voluntary deeded restriction on your property that prevents it from being developed in certain ways. However, it does not mean that you relinquish ownership of the property. You can still sell, mortgage, and pass the land to your children.
 
Conservation servitudes are flexible in that you can pick restrictions and requirements that fit your conservation vision. For example, you can restrict development of homes and roads on the property or subdivision of the land, but if you wish you can continue sustainable farming, ranching, or logging operations that are consistent with the conservation purpose of the servitude.
 
Economic Incentives for Placing a Conservation Servitude on your Land
 
One of the benefits to placing a conservation servitude on your land is that if you follow the IRS guidelines in §170(h), you can receive a charitable tax deduction on your income taxes. You can also receive cash if a qualified government agency or a land trust purchases your development rights via a conservation servitude.
 
Depending on whether Congress has extended the enhanced conservation tax incentive for the year of your conservation servitude sale or donation, will determine the percentage that you can deduct from your AGI (between 30-100%) and how many years it may be carried forward.
 
Also, placing a conservation easement on your land will allow you to reduce your estate taxes. A conservation easement will lower the value of your land and thus it will be taxed a lower rate. In addition, Internal Revenue Code section 2031(c) allows you exclude up to 40% of the value of land subject to the conservation easement from estate taxes, so long as certain conditions are met.
 
Louisiana has not enacted any additional conservation servitude tax deductions or credits for placing this restriction on you land. However, through the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Natural Areas Registry, you can register you land as a Natural Area. Also, through this program the state has funds to purchase conservation servitudes to preserve areas for natural heritage values.  
 
The Louisiana Conservation Servitude Act
 
Conservation servitudes, because they are a restriction on property rights, must be authorized by state legislation. In the 1980s the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws drafted the Uniform Conservation Easement Act (UCEA) as a model; so many states have similar statutes and have adopted the term ‘conservation easement.’
 
Louisiana, using the UCEA as a model, adopted the Louisiana Conservation Servitude Act (LCSA), RS 9:1271, to enable the creation of conservation servitudes within the state.  The LCSA omits some of the provisions of the UCEA, which makes the state’s statute weaker than the national guidelines.
 
First, it should be noted that the LCSA uses the term ‘conservation servitude’, rather than ‘conservation easement.’ However, since neither ‘servitude’ nor ‘easement’ is a truly accurate term for the restriction this doesn’t have any real impact on the validity of the statute.
 
Second, the LCSA omits section 3(b) of the UCEA, meaning that it is silent as to the rules for modifying and terminating conservation servitudes. In general, modification and termination of a conservation servitude is not allowed because it would violate the perpetuity requirement for a federal tax deduction, but many states will allow some modification or termination under the doctrine of cy press. It is unclear on if or how a conservation servitude in Louisiana could be modified or terminated.
 
Third, the LCSA adds to section 6 of the UCEA, which states that you cannot use a conservation servitude to impede construction, operation, or maintenance of needed public utility facilities as provided by law. This provision makes conservation servitudes in Louisiana a weaker tool than other states without this provision, since it can be invalidated if a utility uses eminent domain proceedings to place utility structures on your land.
 
The Major Benefit
 
By placing this restriction on your property you can ensure that you landscape will not be sold for development and that your family legacy will live on for generations to come.