Conservation Easements

WHAT IS A CONSERVATION EASEMENT?

It is a legal document which contains permanent restrictions on the use or development of a specific property.

WHY DO LANDOWNERS ENTER INTO A CONSERVATION EASEMENT?

Landowners enter into a conservation easement as a voluntary act to preserve the resource values that are found on the protected land. Each easement is individually crafted to reflect the needs and objectives of the landowner and the agency receiving the easement.

WHO RECEIVES THE CONSERVATION EASEMENT?

The easement must be granted to a qualified conservation-oriented governmental entity (such as Larimer County Open Lands), or a private non-profit land trust (such as Legacy Land Trust).

WHAT IS THE PROCESS FOR GRANTING AN EASEMENT?

There are three critical components in the creation of a conservation easement:

  • a willing landowner (grantor)
  • a qualified receiving entity (grantee)
  • a property that has resource values which warrant protection

Steps in creating an easement:

  • Mutual determination of the goals and needs of each party
  • Agreement as to the land uses which will be specifically prohibited and those rights that will be reserved to current and future landowners.
  • Creation of a draft document which reflects the above.
  • Final document created, signed, and recorded.

WHAT ARE THE TAX CONSIDERATIONS?

Property Taxes---in Larimer County, these generally will not change because most affected properties are already taxed at the lowest (agricultural) property tax rates.

Income Taxes-Under the current (2010) federal law, if the conservation easement is donated it may be considered a tax-deductible charitable gift, which would allow the donor to deduct a percentage of his or her adjusted gross income in the year of the gift.

Estate Taxes-If estate taxes are due, they often are reduced because the property value has been diminished by the granting of the conservation easement.

State Tax Credit Program-A landowner may earn a credit for State taxes (up to a maximum of $375,000) for the donation of a conservation easement. These credits are transferable, i.e. they can be sold if the landowner cannot utilize them to reduce his/her own taxes.

Citizens should seek information from their attorneys and financial advisors regarding the legal and tax implications of establishing a conservation easement on their property!

WHAT ARE THE OBLIGATIONS OF CURRENT AND FUTURE LANDOWNERS?

  • to utilize the property in a manner that protects the conservation values
  • to allow only those uses which are identified in the conservation easement as "permitted uses"
  • to prevent those uses which are specifically stated as "prohibited" in the easement, or other uses which would negatively affect the conservation values.
  • to allow the recipient agency to access the property at least once per year to confirm that the terms of the conservation easement are being followed.

WHAT'S THE DISTINCTION BETWEEN A CONSERVATION EASEMENT AND LAND PURCHASED OUTRIGHT?

  • land under easement stays in private ownership and use, in accordance with the terms of the easement.
  • when land is sold to a resource agency, the landowner gives up all use of the land, and it will be used for those purposes as determined by the purchasing entity e.g. parks, trails, open space.
  • if purchased, the amount paid for a conservation easement will be less than that paid when the land is sold outright.

IS PUBLIC ACCESS ALLOWED ON CONSERVATION EASEMENTS?

No public access may occur unless a separate access easement has been granted by the owner. Most conservation easements do not provide for public access.