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.
The most traditional tool for conserving private land, a “conservation easement” is a legal agreement between a landowner and a land trust that permanently limits the uses of a property in order to protect its conservation values. Conservation easements allow landowners to continue to own and use their land, and even sell the property or pass it on to heirs. The agreement is flexible and tailored to protect the land’s conservation values and meet the financial and personal needs of the landowner. An easement may apply to all or a portion of the property, and need not require public access. For example, property owners can give up the right to build additional structures while retaining the right to grow crops.
Future owners are bound by the terms of the easement and the land trust takes on the responsibility and legal right to enforce it. If a future owner or someone else violates the easement the land trust will work to have the violation corrected. The land trust is also responsible for making sure the easement’s terms are followed, for example ensuring the ongoing health of a wetland. This is managed through land “stewardship” by the land trust.
If you donate a conservation easement that meets federal tax code requirements, the value of the easement can be treated as a charitable gift and deducted from income tax. Because a conservation easement lowers the property’s fair market value, it can also result in lower property taxes.
Listed below are the conservation objectives BYLT staff consider 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
- Natural biodiversity
- Scenic enjoyment
- Working landscape
- Historic or cultural significance
- Public access
- Recreational open space
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.
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.
Easement terms are delineated by the intersection of the property’s conservation values, the landowner’s needs and Bear Yuba Land Trust’s objectives and obligations.
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.
Prospective grantees must recognize 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 held in perpetuity.
Easement Holder Rights
When Bear Yuba Land Trust accepts the responsibility of a conservation easement, land stewards must have the ability to assess and protect the conservation values in which BYLT has been entrusted. Certain rights of entrance, observation, enforcement and compensation are therefore reserved to BYLT staff in order to fulfill obligations of 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. Protection is ensured by ongoing stewardship of the land.
Communication, stewardship education and support are essential components of a successful conservation easement program. On working lands (agricultural and timber lands) it may mean input on the development of a management plan. BYLT 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 owners.
Significant staff time and resources are required to fulfill the legal obligations of an easement. 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. Because BYLT is a non-profit, 501(c)3 organization, these endowments are tax deductible.