Conservation Easements

Arnold Easement in Montcalm County

Establishing a Conservation Easement

Conservation Easements are agreements between a landowner and the Conservancy to preserve specifically identified conservation values. Easements are not open to the public unless the land owner grants permission. We do not show the locations of our conservation easements other than in a general context because they are not open to the public.

You can establish a conservation easement on all or part of your land. A conservation easement is a voluntary legal agreement between a landowner and a land trust, or conservancy, which contains permanent restrictions on the use or development of land in order to protect clearly defined conservation values, such as wildlife habitat, scenic or open space, prime farmland or historical significance. It limits but does not necessarily prohibit all use, dependent upon the terms of the easement agreement. The purpose of the easement is to protect, and works to the benefit of the landowner’s desires and the conservation value of the land.

There may be tax benefits. An easement placed on property valued at less than fair market to a qualified conservancy may be treated as a charitable gift of the development rights, and may be deductible on the landowner’s federal income tax return, based on the reduction in the value of the land as a result of the permanent restriction on future development.

A conservation easement “runs with the land.” It is not eliminated by a change in ownership. It is filed with the Register of Deeds and its existence will show up any time a title company, lender or individual does a title search of the property. Along with this permanence comes a responsibility for the conservancy, the easement holder, to monitor the land to ensure the terms are being met, and to protect against any violations. This creates a burden on the conservancy to ensure the time and expense to conduct the monitoring and the funds required to defend the easement in any necessary court action are permanently available, but this is both our promise to the grantor and our legal responsibility as the grantee.

It is also important to know what a conservation easement does not do. It does not, by its nature, allow public access. The landowner still controls who does and does not have access to his/her land. It does not prevent the transfer of ownership. A landowner can sell or lease the land if he wishes, but the terms of the easement remain in effect. Finally, an easement does not restrict any property rights that don’t negatively impact the conservation values of the easement. For example, a landowner can lease hunting rights or farming rights or otherwise continue to do whatever he/she wishes on the land, subject to the terms of the easement.

See our Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s) page for details.