Conservation Easements

Photo Courtesy of Trisha Moore

Conservation easements are voluntary and permanent legal agreements that restrict some land use to protect important conservation values.  Conservation easements help preserve special places by limiting some of the rights of land ownership—such as the rights to develop or subdivide.  The organization holding the easement, a nonprofit land trust or public agency, shares the responsibility to make sure the terms of the easement are upheld.

The Basics

A conservation easement is an agreement between two parties defining limits on land use in order to protect specified conservation values on the land.  Conservation easements require both a landowner and an easement holder, and both parties have legal obligations to ensure the easement terms are honored.

Once an easement is conveyed to a land trust, the landowner has agreed to forego certain rights of ownership to protect the land. The land trust or other organization holding the easement is responsible for making sure the terms of the easement are upheld, in perpetuity.

While a landowner retains the right to own and sell the property, the easement’s restrictions will remain permanently attached to the property's title. Therefore, future owners of the land will be bound to the terms of the agreement.

There is no standard set of restrictions. Conservation easements are flexible legal tools.  Some easements prohibit any subdivision or development, others define allowable limits. Each easement is customized to the land and conservation values it protects when negotiated by the landowner and easement holder.

Easements can be either donated or sold to a land trust or public agency.  Even if an easement is donated and no money changes hands, conveying an easement is technically a transaction of a partial interest in real estate.  Easement valuation is determined by national appraisal standards.  

If you are considering a conservation easement, you should seek the advice of an attorney with conservation easement experience.

For more information, download our Conservation Easement Fact Sheet.

Tax Advantages of Conservation Easement Donations

In Wisconsin, there are state and federal income tax incentives specifically associated with donations of conservation easements.  Conservation tax incentives have helped thousands of landowners choose lasting conservation. The following are some possible tax advantages you may be eligible to receive.

  • If the donation meets the federal tax code requirements as a qualified conservation contribution, you can claim it as a tax-deductible charitable donation;
  • You may see reduced property taxes depending on the location of the land and the terms of the easement; and
  • You may be eligible for estate tax reductions.

It's important to note that tax savings are neither guaranteed nor expeditious. Conservation gifts can take several months to close and potential federal tax benefits vary with the particulars of each donation.

For more detailed information, download our fact sheet on the Tax Advantages of Conservation Easements.  Anyone considering an easement donation should consult an experienced attorney.



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