The dictionary defines a conservation easement as a legally enforceable land preservation agreement between a landowner and a qualified land protection organization for the purposes of conservation.
According to the IRS Code, Section 170 (h)(4) there are four purposes for conservation and they are:
A. Protection of a relatively natural habitat of fish, wildlife or plants, or similar ecosystems;
B. Preservation of land areas for public outdoor recreation or education;
C. Preservation of open space, including farms, ranches or forests, for the scenic enjoyment of the general public, or pursuant to governmental policy;
D. Preservation of a historically important land area or certified historic structures.
Agricultural Conservation Easement Basics:
- Each agricultural conservation easement is tailored to the desires of the landowner.
- The landowner retains the ownership and continued use of the land.
- Central Valley Farmland Trust is not involved in the day-to-day operation and the public is not allowed on a property with a conservation easement.
- The land may be sold or transferred to heirs in a will or a trust, but the easement remains in place allowing that property to stay in agriculture for future generations.
- Property taxes and capital gains may be minimized by placing a conservation on your land.
There are many other land trusts that work to conserve the types of lands listed above, but the focus of the Central Valley Farmland Trust (CVFT) is strictly farmland, and the easements we hold are referred to as agricultural conservation easements (ACE).
A conservation easement is an effective way for landowners to preserve their land. The decision to place a conservation easement on a property is voluntary. However, once an easement is in place, it is in perpetuity. The land may be sold or transferred to heirs via a will or a trust, but the easement and all its restrictions remain in place. Land that has an ACE is protected by prohibiting the conversion of that land to non agricultural uses. The terms of the easement do not negate or modify state or federal law, and a conservation easement cannot prevent condemnation through the eminent domain process.
No two conservation easements are alike. Each is tailored to the desires of the landowner, the interests of the land trust and the unique character of the land. The landowner retains the ownership and use of the land. CVFT is not involved in the day-to-day operation and the general public is not allowed on the property protected by the ACE. Continued ranching or farming by the landowner is encouraged and some limited development may be allowed under certain and specific instances. New farm buildings and future home sites are commonly included in the easement terms.
Once an ACE has been placed on a property, CVFT is required to complete an annual monitoring report to ensure the terms and conditions of the easement are being met. The monitoring inspection is typically done by staff and or monitoring volunteers and the landowner is invited to come along.
There may be tax benefits to a landowner who donates all or a portion of the ACE on his/her property. To qualify for an income tax deduction, the easement must meet the conservation purposes included in IRS Code, Section 170(h)(4) (see above). To qualify as a charitable gift, conservation easement must be granted in perpetuity to a qualified conservation organization.
CVFT strongly recommends that the landowner consult with a tax advisor and independent legal council before proceeding with an easement. For additional information, contact our office at (916) 687-3178.