Conservation Easements: Conserving Our Way of Life

What is a Conservation Easement?

A conservation easement is a voluntary legal agreement by which a landowner conserves the agricultural, forestall, environmental, historic and open space value of his or her land in exchange for generous tax credits and deductions. Easements are one of the most effective means nationwide for conserving farms, forests, wildlife habitat and the scenic corridors of our rivers and communities. With a conservation easement, a landowner donates — and extinguishes — the right to develop land intensively for residential, commercial or industrial purposes to a state agency or a land trust.

Who decides the terms of the easement on my land?

The terms of a conservation easement are negotiated between the landowner and the prospective easement holder, usually the Virginia Outdoors Foundation (VOF). Generally, the tract must be 100 acres or larger; however, smaller properties may be considered if they are in special conservations areas and/or if the property has multiple conservation values. The landowner may retain some development rights which are negotiated with the VOF. For each 150 acres one division (two parcels) may allowed but division is not encouraged, for example farm of 150 or more acres under easement could allow for two parcels). Easement parcels usually are allowed one house site, which includes a main house and possibly one secondary smaller dwelling. Generally, there are limitations on the square footage allowed for residences and on the very large farm structures. There may also be restriction on the location of structures. For further information on VOF conservation easement guidelines refer to the VOF website or contact a regional VOF office www.virginiaoutdoorsfoundation.org or (540) 951-0704. All easements are monitored and enforced in perpetuity by the VOF.

Why should a landowner donate a conservation easement?

  • Some farmers want to ensure that their land remains as a family farm
  • Some landowners want to conserve their property as wildlife habitat
  • Some are attracted by the substantial tax advantages of donating a conservation easement: state income tax credits, federal and state income tax deductions, reductions in estate taxes and in some circumstances a reduction in local property taxes
  • Some farmers need the cash generated by an easement to keep the farm going
  • Each easement is individually tailored to meet a landowner’s needs
  • Your community benefits as farmland, scenic vistas, water supplies, woodlands and other open spaces are protected
  • Local taxes stay low: farmland generates more revenue than it uses in public services
  • Land under easement may be freely sold or passed on to children
  • Land can be leased for farming, hunting or other traditional rural uses
  • The landowner still owns the land and can continue all its traditional uses

How do I enter into a conservation easement?

Contact the New River Land Trust to talk to a staff member about all aspects of a conservation easement. The Land Trust has helped over 240 landowners with easements on more than 50,000 acres of land. We provide information and work with you and the VOF to develop an easement that will meet your needs. We also recommend you consult with your attorney and accountant.

Contact: John Eustis (540) 951-1704, e-mail: nrlt@newriverlandtrust.org

“I want my children and grandchildren to be able to come here and enjoy this land” -Montgomery County easement donor