California Wetlands Information System

Conservation Easements



A conservation casement grants someone else a nonpossessory interest in your land. In granting a conservation casement, a landowner transfers certain property rights to a nonprofit conservation organization or government agency. The landowner agrees to restrict uses of the property, and the agency or nonprofit gains the right to ensure that the restrictions are upheld. This kind of easement is a tool for preventing intensification of land use on property having important natural, agricultural, scenic, or historical value. The landowner retains title to the property but agrees to forgo certain uses, such as residential or commercial development.

Why would landowners choose to give up rights on their own property? Landowners may opt for conservation easements for both personal and economic reasons. They may want to formalize and make permanent a personal commitment to protecting the natural values of their land, or they may have financial incentives, as conservation easements can be donated or sold. Landowners receive direct income for selling conservation easements and the restrictions on potential land use may lower the landowner's property taxes. Landowners who choose to donate a conservation easement may also become eligible for an income tax deduction. The entire value of an easement may be donated, or a portion of it (by, for instance, selling the easement for a price below market value). Arrangements can be made to convey the easement at a time and price that will bring the greatest benefit for all involved parties.

Each conservation easement is unique. While the terms of a conservation easement are explicit and legally binding, they are also negotiable so that the needs of all concerned-the landowner, the conservation organization, and the wetland itself-can be accommodated. Uses are restricted only to the degree necessary to protect the land's significant values. A conservation easement is written into the deed for the property and "runs with the land." All subsequent owners of the property are bound by the terms of the easement.

Organizations and programs dealing with conservation easements are described below.

AMERICAN FARMLAND TRUST

The American Farmland Trust (AFT) is a private conservation organization dedicated to protecting the nations's farmland resources. AFT provides assistance to landowners and nonprofit conservation organizations, accepts agricultural easements and interests in land, and promotes public policy that supports both a healthy agricultural community and a healthy environment.

Contact. The American Farmland Trust has two offices in California; the one in Davis can be reached at (916) 753-1073, and thevisalia office can be reached at (209) 627-3708.

THE TRUST FOR PUBLIC LAND

The Trust for Public Land (TPL) is a national land trust that focuses on preserving land for open space and public recreation, with an emphasis on urban areas. It also provides training and technical assistance to other land trusts and private landowners, and can refer you to the land trust nearest you.

Contact. The Trust for Public Land's Land Trust Program at (415) 495-4014.

THE STATE COASTAL CONSERVANCY

Either the agricultural program or the resource enhancement program at the Coastal Conservancy can provide technical assistance regarding wetland property on the coast or on property that affects coastal wetlands. The Conservancy's nonprofit assistance program can also refer you to a local land trust.

Contact. The State Coastal Conservancy at (510) 286-1015.


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