What is a Conservation Easement?
In use for over 100 years, conservation easements are legal agreements that permanently retire certain development rights of a property, as agreed upon by the property owner and a land trust. Each conservation easement is unique in that it restricts and protects the specific rights and land values that the owner wishes to conserve on a particular piece of property. And yet all conservation easements have one thing in common: they must provide a significant public benefit.
Conservation values may be agricultural, scenic, historic, ecological (wildlife habitat), or recreational, and the public benefits through the protection of these values. This does not mean that the conservation easement must allow for public access— in fact this is one of the biggest misconceptions of conservation easements! – it simply means that the surrounding community directly benefits by the land being conserved.
For example, if a landowner retires specific building rights and decides not to build houses on a scenic ridge top that is viewed from a major public road, then he or she is preserving a scenic view the public can see and enjoy. By voluntarily restricting development the landowner preserves the view (a conservation value) and the public benefits from these actions.
Every conservation easement must be recorded with the county clerk and is tied to the land in perpetuity. The land with the easement passes from landowner to landowner in concept since it is forever tied to the property. The land trust “holds” the easement, taking on the responsibility to ensure that the terms of the easement are met and visits the property and landowner each year to see that the conservation values are being protected.
In retiring certain development rights, a landowner is often giving-up a large amount of their land’s value. This value is determined by an appraisal and if the landowner donates the conservation easement to a land trust the value is considered a donation or gift by both the federal and state government, qualifying the landowner for a federal tax deduction and a NM state tax credit in certain cases.
Public benefits of conservation easements:
- Protect water quality
- Conserve wildlife habitat
- Preserve open space
- Preserve working farmland, ranchland, timberland
- Maintain character of rural communities
- Buffer public lands
- Maintain landscapes for tourism
- Require less in public services, generate more in local revenues
- Stretch public conservation dollars