Landowners who wish to conserve environmental, historical, cultural or recreational features on their property have several options. These options vary in terms of tangible benefits to the landowner, and in terms of the severity of the restrictions on land use. A good general review of options is the Land Trust Alliance Fact Sheet.
There are three general options for preserving your land:
Conservation Stewardship Plans
The least restrictive is an agreement to follow a conservation or stewardship plan. Such plans provide management guidelines and best practices that, when followed, preserve or improve the quality of the property. The landowner voluntary adheres to the conservation stewardship plan, and may choose to discontinue following it in whole or in part at any time. When the property is transferred to a new owner, the new owner is under no obligation to follow the conservation stewardship plan.
The St. Lawrence Land Trust is currently involved in an initiative that includes recruiting landowners to voluntarily agree to conservation stewardship plans, see Current Projects. If you are interested in exploring whether a conservation stewardship plan is a good option for your property, or if you would like help in drafting and implementing such a plan, contact us.
A conservation easement is a restriction placed on a parcel of property that is intended to preserve its environmental, cultural & historical, or recreational qualities for public benefit; for examples of such qualities see Public Benefits. The property owner voluntarily gives up the right to pursue some activities on the parcel of property within the conservation easement. The rights and responsibilities of the landowner and the easement holder are explicitly detailed in the easement document. The land within the easement remains private property, and establishment of a conservation easement does not open the property to access by the public, unless public access is a specified condition of the easement document or the landowner chooses to permit it.
Easements are legally binding. While it is possible to implement an easement that is in-effect for a limited span of time, easements are usually perpetual. Perpetual easements are recorded on the property deed. When the property is transferred to a new landowner, the new owner must continue to adhere to the restrictions specified in the easement. Court challenges to the legality of perpetual easements have repeatedly failed; US judges have consistently ruled that new landowners must continue to follow any restrictions spelled-out in the easement.
How does a landowner benefit from an easement on his or her property? For some landowners, knowing that some treasured feature of their property will be protected in perpetuity is incentive enough to establish an easement. An additional benefit is that landowners receive a one-time charitable deduction credit for completing an easement transaction with a non-profit organization such as the St. Lawrence Land Trust. Moreover, in New York State at present, landowners receive an annual reduction on their property tax for land under a conservation easement, see NYS Conservation Easement Tax Credit and Tax Incentives for Land Conservation.
Two principal activities of the St. Lawrence Land Trust are identifying landowners that are willing to establish conservation easements on their property that will benefit the public, and securing adequate funding to complete the work involved in establishing the easement and in providing long-term stewardship. If you are interested in exploring whether a conservation easement is a good option for your property, contact us.
Within the focus region of the St. Lawrence Land Trust, three other programs work with private landowners to establish conservation easements, often in conjunction with habitat improvement for wildlife: the USDA National Resource Conservation Service Wetlands Reserve Program, the US Fish & Wildlife Service Partners for Fish & Wildlife, and Ducks Unlimited. For information on how some landowners in the St. Lawrence Valley feel about conservation easements on their property, see Conserving Wetlands on Privately Owned Land in the North Country.
Transfer of Property Ownership
In some instances, a landowner may wish to conserve for perpetuity the environmental, historical & cultural, or recreational features of his or her property, but not want to continue to bear the financial, management, and liability burden associated with land ownership. In this case, a donation, bequest, or sale of the property to a non-profit organization such as the St. Lawrence Land Trust may be desirable. Besides the benefit from knowing that the property is preserved for the public benefit, the landowner may also declare the value of the donation as a charitable contribution. The deduction may be for the whole assessed value, in the case of a donation, or else may be the difference between the assessed value and the sale price.
The St. Lawrence Land Trust prefers that land within our focus region remain under private ownership. However, in instances where conservation of the property is of exceptional public benefit, we are willing to consider acquiring property by donation or sale. If you are interested in exploring whether a donation, bequest, or sale of your property to the St. Lawrence Land Trust would be mutually beneficial, contact us.