Conservation Easements 101

How will I know if my property qualifies for a conservation easement?

Conserving Carolina will help you determine whether your property has “conservation values” that qualify it for a conservation easement. At your invitation, Conserving Carolina’s Land Protection staff will meet with you on the property to evaluate whether your land is appropriate for a conservation easement.

What does it mean to donate a conservation easement? Will I still own my land?

When you donate a conservation easement to a qualifying non-profit land trust, such as Conserving Carolina, you are generally giving up certain development rights on the property. You will still own the property and retain some rights of ownership which will be specified in the conservation easement. Each conservation easement is different and specifically tailored to the property it restricts.

Does all of my property have to be subject to the conservation easement?

No. In many cases landowners choose to encumber some portions of their property, but not all of it, with a conservation easement.

Can I ever build on my land after I donate a conservation easement?

In many cases you may reserve the right to limited building on your land in the future; however, any future development must be planned for by specifically permitting it in the conservation easement.

What if I just want to add on to my house or barn?

When drafting the conservation easement, Conserving Carolina will ask you to think of any type of renovation or construction that you might desire in the future. You will be asked to estimate the maximum square footage you would anticipate adding during any type of building or renovations.

What are some typical reserved rights that easement holders retain?

Conserving Carolina encourages landowners to dedicate serious thought to what they might desire for their property in the future. While some landowners do not wish to add anything in the future, some landowners decide to reserve rights for such things as:

Building sites for future houses, driveways, barns or other structures, fencing, trails, gardens, and other things they may desire on the property in the future.

There are some “standard” reserved rights that Conserving Carolina recommends including in your conservation easement, such as the ability to add wells and “green power” sources and to manage the property to improve forest health or wildlife habitat. Conserving Carolina will work with you to decide which reserved rights fit your intentions for the property.

Please note: If you are a landowner planning to apply for a federal income tax benefit for placing your land under conservation easement:

As a general rule, the more rights you reserve on your property, the lesser the tax benefit you can potentially enjoy. The IRS requires that the conservation easement be held by a qualified organization, such as Conserving Carolina, and that its value be determined by a qualified appraiser. Generally, the tax benefit amounts to the difference between your property’s appraised “highest and best” use before the conservation and its appraised value after placing the conservation easement on the land. Conserving Carolina can supply you with a list of regional certified appraisers.

How do I find out if I qualify for a tax benefit for conserving my property?

You must work with your financial advisor to see if you can benefit from the donation of a conservation easement based on your particular tax position. Currently, federal law allows the value of a “qualified conservation contribution” such as a conservation easement to be used as a deduction to offset up to 50% of your adjusted gross income each year over a period of up to 16 years or until the value of the donation is “used up”.

Do I have to decide right away if I want to work with Conserving Carolina on a conservation easement?

You do not have to decide right away. Please don’t hesitate to contact us for more information as you will be under no obligation. If you decide to pursue a conservation easement our land protection staff will ask you to sign a non-binding agreement letter that lists the conservation values to be protected, the necessary steps for completing the easement, and estimates for the expenses associated with completing the conservation easement.

Does a conservation easement mean that the public will be allowed on my property?

No, most conservation easements do NOT provide public access to the property. However, if you wish to affirmatively provide for public access to your property, appropriate language can be incorporated into the conservation easement.

Will I be able to cut dead and diseased trees on my property if I have an easement?

Most landowners wish to be able to remove dead, dying and diseased trees as needed over time. The ability to do this and land management activities can be reserved with specific language in your conservation easement, often with a requirement to provide notice to Conserving Carolina when such activities are going to be carried out.

Why do I need to let Conserving Carolina know if I need to remove dead trees (or make any other changes to my land after the conservation easement has been placed on my property)?

Conserving Carolina is responsible for making sure that the terms you outlined in your conservation easement are met forever. Permitted actions such as the removal of diseased trees need to be noted in our easement files so that when the property is monitored each year, there are no questions about whether the tree removal was permissible.

What is the point of donating a conservation easement to Conserving Carolina?

A conservation easement is the only legal and binding way to ensure that the natural resources of your property will be protected, specifically the way you intend, forever.