What is a Conservation Easement?
AVLT staff is often asked what we do. It seems the biggest misconception is that we buy property, or that once conserved, AVLT owns or manages property…
Instead, AVLT uses private agreements with landowners to conserve open land while keeping it privately owned – allowing traditional land uses, like farming and ranching, to continue.
Here is a simplified explanation of how it works:
Private landowners voluntarily place deed restrictions (known as “conservation easements”) on their properties that limit or eliminate their development rights. Other private property rights remain in place, and most do not provide public access – other than as a resting spot for one’s eyes. With very few exceptions, such as projects funded through grants or partnerships with government agencies, we do not purchase these easements. Most landowners donate their easements and AVLT then monitors them annually and enforces the terms of the agreements in perpetuity.
Conserved properties might be working ranches, scrub oak forests, or riparian corridors. They are often home to a wide array of wildlife species, some of which are endangered, threatened or listed as a Colorado Species of Concern, such as the northern leopard frog which can be found on Don and Beth Fulton’s Record Ranch in West Divide Creek and the Bershenyi family’s Lazy V Quarter Circle Ranch in Glenwood Springs.
“Saving land” is an abstract concept. By sacrificing what often equates to millions of dollars in property value, these landowners are giving a huge gift to wildlife and the rest of us who live here and continue to enjoy scenic views and open space.
Conservation easements benefit the public and the environment:
· Conservation easements may conserve watersheds and aquifers and protect riparian habitat, helping ensure a clean supply of water for the community.
· Conservation easements often act as a buffer to public lands, extending wildlife habitat and protecting migratory corridors for wide ranging species such as elk, deer, bear, and mountain lions.
· Many properties conserved by Aspen Valley Land Trust are highly visible and provide scenic vistas that residents and visitors enjoy.
· Conservation easements on agricultural lands help to preserve our Western heritage and assure the availability of this land for food production into the future.
Conservation easements keep land in private hands and preserve traditional land uses:
· Conservation easements are individually tailored to protect specific conservation values while allowing the property to stay under private ownership and control.
· The landowner may continue to use and enjoy the land in ways consistent with the easement, which may include farming, ranching, or recreation.
· In some cases, easements may allow for additional home sites on a small portion of the property.
· Conserved land may be sold, mortgaged, or passed down to the next generation, though the easement becomes a permanent part of the title, running with the land in perpetuity.
· Public access onto conserved land is not required, though a landowner may choose to allow such access.
Conservation easements can provide tax benefits to donors:
The Internal Revenue Code provides federal tax deductions for the donation of a qualified conservation contribution to a qualified organization that is to be used exclusively for conservation purposes.
A conservation easement may qualify if it meets one or more of the following “conservation purposes:”
· Protection of open space, including farmland and forest land, that preserves scenic views for the general public or is pursuant to a “clearly delineated” governmental policy;
· Protection of important, relatively natural habitat for fish, wildlife, or plants;
· Preservation for outdoor recreation by, or the education of, the general public;
· Preservation to protect historic property (listed in the National Register of Historic Places or located in a
registered historic district).
AVLT provides a more detailed list of criteria used to evaluate the conservation potential of a property.
· The donation of a conservation easement may qualify the donor for substantial state and federal income tax benefits.
· To qualify for income tax benefits, the agreement must be properly structured and provide significant public benefit by satisfying one of the above recognized “conservation purpose.”
· Protecting a property with a conservation easement may reduce its value significantly and reduce the amount of estate tax owed, thus making it easier for landowners to pass the property on to their children.