About Conservation Easements
- What is a conservation easement?
- How does an easement work?
- What potential benefits can easements offer landowners?
- How does a conservation easement benefit the community?
- What restrictions does a conservation easement place on land?
- Must an easement allow public access?
- What steps do I take to place a conservation easement on my property?
A conservation easement is a legal agreement a property owner enters, usually with a local land trust, to restrict the type and amount of development that may take place on his or her property. Easement lands remain in private hands and on local tax rolls while providing such public benefits as open space, scenic vistas and wildlife habitat. Each easements restrictions are tailored to the features of the particular property and the land use goals of the individual owner.
When you own land, you hold many rights associated with it (the right to harvest timber, to build structures, to farm, etc., subject to zoning and other laws). By placing a conservation easement on your land, you voluntarily limit or relinquish some of these rights. NHCP works with interested landowners to tailor an easement that protects the land's natural and cultural values and meets the owner's land use goals. Most easements limit the number and location of future structures and the types of land uses that can take place. The land trust, as easement holder assumes permanent responsibility for enforcing the easements terms. This stewardship involves an annual inspection of the property and on going contact with the landowners. If an easement is violated,the land trust takes action to have the violation corrected (including legal measures, although these are rarely required).
Conservation easements enable landowners to permanently protect their cherished properties while retaining ownership. Easements provide permanent protection, applying to all future landowners. Landowners retain title to their property and may continue to live on it, sell it, or pass it on to heirs, knowing that it will always remain protected. Easements can aid in estate planning, reducing estate taxes that could force the sale of family lands. Donated easements also can provide a charitable income tax deduction. Easements may reduce property taxes by eliminating unwanted but highly valuable development potential. Easements can minimize family conflict when land passes to the next generation.
A conservation easement limits development, protects important natural resources and provides for public access or other public benefits. Easement properties remain in private hands and on the Towns taxrolls. Conservation easements provide a voluntary means for limiting development and preserving valued open space without the Town enacting restrictive zoning laws or expending public funds to purchase and maintain open space.
An easements restrictions protect the lands important natural resources. Restrictions may apply to all or part of the landowners property. Most easements limit the number and location of future structures and the types of land uses that can take place.
NHCP encourages public access where appropriate, but it is not a requirement for all conservation easements. Some landowners convey certain access rights, such as allowing fishing or hiking in specified locations. If an easement is given for recreation or educational purposes, public access is required. For scenic easements, much of the property must be visible to the public, but physical access in not necessary. Access is generally not required for easements that protect wildlife or plant habitats or agricultural lands. For historic preservation easements, either visual or physical access is required, depending on the nature of the property to be preserved.
The first step is to contact NHCP to become acquainted with the organization and how conservation easements work. Individual landowners may set up a meeting with an NHCP Board member to discuss the owners land use goals for the property, the properties conservation values, and any development rights the landowner may want to retain. Together, NHCP and the landowner determine whether a conservation easement would accomplish the landowners goals and satisfy NHCPs criteria for conservation projects.
Sources:Conservation Options: A Guide for Maine Landowners
Maine Coast Heritage Trust and Land Trust Alliance
This guidebook is written specifically for Maine landowners considering protecting their land. It provides an explanation of conservation easements and other methods for land protection. North Haven residents may receive a copy free of charge by contacting NHCP.