Conservation easement

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In the United States, a conservation easement (also called a conservation covenant or conservation restriction) is an encumbrance — sometimes including a transfer of usage rights (easement) — which creates a legally enforceable land preservation agreement between a landowner and a government agency (municipality, county, state, federal) or a qualified land protection organization (often called a "land trust"), for the purposes of conservation. It restricts real estate development, commercial and industrial uses, and certain other activities on a property to a mutually agreed upon level. The property remains the private property of the landowner.

The decision to place a conservation easement on a property is strictly a voluntary one where the easement is sold or donated. The restrictions of the easement, once set in place, "run with the land" and are binding on all future owners of the property (in other words, the restrictions are perpetual). The restrictions are spelled out in a legal document that is recorded in the local land records and the easement becomes a part of the chain of title for the property. Appraisals of the value of the easement, and financial arrangements between the parties (land owner and land trust), generally are kept private.

The primary purpose of a conservation easement is to protect land from certain forms of development or use. Lands for which conservation easements may be desirable include agricultural land, timber resources, and/or other valuable natural resources such as wildlife habitat, clean water, clean air, or scenic open space. Protection is achieved primarily by separating the right to subdivide and build on the land from the other rights of ownership. The landowner who gives up these "development rights" continues to privately own and manage the land and may receive significant state and federal tax advantages for having donated and/or sold the conservation easement. Perhaps more importantly, the landowner has contributed to the public good by preserving the conservation values associated with their land for future generations. In accepting the conservation easement, the easement holder has a responsibility to monitor future uses of the land to ensure compliance with the terms of the easement and to enforce the terms if a violation occurs.

Although a conservation easement prohibits certain uses by the landowner, such an easement does not make the land public. On the contrary, many conservation easements confer no use of the land either to the easement holder or to the public. Furthermore, many conservation easements reserve to the landowner specific uses which if not reserved would be prohibited. Some conservation easements confer specific uses to the easement holder or to the public. These details are spelled out in the legal document that creates the conservation easement.[1]

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