What is a Conservation Easement?

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A conservation easement is a voluntary restriction on the use of your real property by means of a recorded deed restriction. The easement will be executed along with an agreement with a qualified entity, often a tax-exempt charitable organization (such as a land trust) or a government agency, which will monitor and enforce the restrictions on your land.
 
Every landowner is unique and every piece of land is unique. Thus, a conservation easement is drafted specifically for your property and will vary depending on your current use of the property and your conservation vision for the future. Generally, conservation easements will prevent future real estate development, industrial use, and many potential commercial uses. However, you may choose to continue current uses, including, for example, residential and recreational use, agriculture, forestry, or ranching.
 
You have the right to do a lot of different things with your property, such as plant trees or cut them down, construct buildings or demolish them, dig holes or build fences, but the sale or gift of a conservation easement will restrict your right to do some of these things, and perhaps others. Remember, if you sell or donate an easement you are only limiting some of your rights with respect to your property. You continue to own your land, and you can do anything with your land that is not prevented or restricted by the easement.
 
In exchange for placing a conservation easement on your land you may be eligible for certain tax benefits. To receive federal tax benefits for your donation the easement must run with the land in perpetuity.  The easement must also be for conservation purposes, such as to preserve land for outdoor recreation or education of the general public, protect natural habitats for wildlife, reserve open space, or to preserve historic land and structures.