How We Work
Our land conservation staff is available to help you make long-term plans for your property. There are several techniques available, all of which can be tailored to fit your unique circumstances. Your choice of which technique to pursue depends upon your goals for the property, the natural characteristics of the land, and your financial objectives, including income and estate tax planning. Because federal regulations may limit a taxpayer's ability to fully utilize a deduction, a landowner should seek professional legal and tax advice when considering conservation options.
How Conservation Easements Work
Conservation easements are prepared in a detailed legal agreement that identifies the conservation values on a property, prescribes targeted restrictions on use and development that threaten those conservation values and affirms allowed uses that are consistent with their protection. The landowner and prospective easement holder tailor easement terms to protect the land’s conservation values and meet the needs of the landowner. Each property has different conservation values just as each land owner has different needs; thus each conservation easement is unique.
Once the terms and conditions have been agreed upon, the conservation easement is deeded to the easement holder through a purchase or donation transaction. The landowner assumes the responsibility of stewardship while continuing to enjoy the use and control of their property. The easement holder assumes permanent legal responsibility of ensuring the protection of the identified conservation values by periodically monitoring the property and upholding the terms of the conservation easement. The easement terms and conditions become permanently bound to the property upon which they have been placed and persist, in perpetuity, even as ownership changes.
Listed below are the conservation objectives that BYLT considers when evaluating the fit of a particular property with the responsibility of administering a conservation easement:
Watershed or aquatic ecosystem protection
Habitat protection and connectivity
Special status species protection
Historic or cultural significance
Recreational open space
Questions we might as include: is the property large enough to adequately protect the resource? Is there potential that adjacent lands might otherwise adversely affect the property? Is there potential for acquiring adjacent lands?
Identification of Conservation Values
Each conservation value must be identified in the conservation easement agreement and further described in a Baseline Documentation Report. The Baseline Documentation Report is produced based on site visits, interviews with those familiar with the property, and research. In addition to describing the conservation values, the document outlines the present or baseline conditions on the property at the time the conservation easement is deeded. This includes landscape condition and all natural and human-made features as they relate to the terms of the conservation easement.
Declaration of Landowners Needs
The landowner’s current uses and future plans for the property are important considerations when embarking on a conservation easement agreement. Once identified these needs can then be discussed and incorporated into the terms of the conservation easement.
It is the intersection of the property’s conservation values, the landowner’s needs and Bear Yuba Land Trust’s objectives and obligations from which the specific easement terms are delineated.
Bear Yuba Land Trust recognizes that the viability of conservation relies heavily upon the landowner’s ability to secure reasonable and sustainable use of their real-estate investments. This use may include the continued working of the land, the right to develop home-sites as well as the right to enjoy the recreational and aesthetic opportunities that open space affords.
The prospective grantee must recognize, however, that the deeding of a conservation easement means relinquishing some rights in order to establish perpetual conservation security. Limits on future subdivision, development, and use of the property are therefore negotiated and drafted into the easement document. These use restrictions will be in perpetuity.
Easement Holder Rights
When Bear Yuba Land Trust accepts the responsibility of a conservation easement, it must have the ability to assess and protect the conservation values in which it has been entrusted. Certain rights of entrance, observation, enforcement and compensation are therefore reserved by BYLT in order to fulfill our obligations with regard to the conservation agreement.
With each conservation easement, BYLT and the landowner take on the responsibility and obligation to protect the conservation values of the property. This protection is ensured by the ongoing stewardship of the land upon which those conservation values have been identified.
While stewardship is ultimately the responsibility of the landowner, BYLT believes that the highest level of protection is achieved by cultivating a cooperative relationship with the landowner. Thus we believe that communication, as well as stewardship education and support are essential components of a successful conservation easement program. In some instances this means collaborating with the landowner to identify, plan and realize restoration and/or enhancement of particular conservation values. On working lands (agricultural and timber lands) it may mean input on the development of a management plan. In either case, NCLT may be able to provide and/or identify expertise and other resources for such efforts.
At a minimum, BYLT annually contacts the landowner and/or property agent and monitors each property to ensure compliance with the terms of the conservation easement. All of this is documented, compiled as part of the record for each easement and provided to land owner.
Fulfilling the legal obligations of an easement holder and providing stewardship guidance requires significant staff time and other resources. For this reason, BYLT establishes endowments to cover the costs associated with our monitoring and reporting responsibilities. The establishment of a stewardship endowment is an essential component in the conservation easement development process thereby ensuring that resources necessary to protect the conservation values persist just as the Land Trust’s responsibilities persist. These endowments, since BYLT is a non-profit, 501(c)3 organization, are tax deductible.