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, forestal, environmental, historic and open space value of their 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 New River Land Trust (NRLT), Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF) or Virginia Outdoors Foundation (VOF).  Each conservation organization has different parameter regarding what types of projects they will consider.

For the NRLT, we will consider properties of a variety of sizes depending on the conservation values associated with the property.  Generally the smaller, the property the more restrictive the easement terms (for example: restricted areas, limited permitted divisions and residential structures if any).  There are generally 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 the VDOF, they generally work with properties of 50 acres and larger that are primarily forested or are planned to be forested in the near future.  As with NRLT, the VDOF will ask for more restrictive easement terms (i.e. restricted areas, limited permitted divisions and residential structures if any) on smaller properties.  There are generally 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 the 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 be allowed but division is not encouraged.  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 conservation easement guidelines for all the above as well as other conservation organizations please contact the New River Land Trust at the contact information listed below.  All easements are monitored and enforced in perpetuity by the respective conservation organization.

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 245 landowners with easements on more than 55,000 acres of land.  We provide information and work with you to a conservation option that will be the best fit for you.

We also recommend you consult with your attorney and accountant. Note that doing an easement requires the property owner hire an attorney and an appraiser and these professions should be qualified and experienced with conservation easement work.  The property owner may also incur other costs related to the easement depending on the type of conservation organization that works with them to create the easement.

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.