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Conservation Easements Explained

Article Index
Conservation Easements Explained
Is public access required?
What types of land?
Ownership
Amount of Land
Easement Enforcement
Time to Complete
Financial/Tax Benefits
All Pages

A conservation easement is a legally binding agreement between a landowner (the Grantor) and an eligible conservation organization or agency (the Grantee) that permanently restricts future development of a property. 

The Southeast Land Trust is a 501(c)(3) non-profit conservation organization and under federal and state laws is eligible to hold conservation easements.

Property ownership brings with it inherent rights, including the right of development, which includes construction, subdivision, mining, and water withdrawals.  These rights can be separated from the underlying ownership of the property and sold or given away.  A conservation easement legally separates some of your rights of ownership and transfers them to a qualified organization, such as the Southeast Land Trust.  The receiving organization does not actually hold the development rights, which are extinguished.  Rather, the easement holder is responsible for enforcing the restrictions both parties have outlined in the easement contract.


What Does a Conservation Easement Do?
In general, a conservation easement forbids or limits future residential or commercial development.  In some cases, a limited number of specified subdivisions may be allowed.  Additional restrictions include prohibiting the removal of topsoil, the construction of cell towers and billboards and burying of trash.  These restrictions apply to the current and all future landowners.

It is important to note that each easement is specifically tailored to protect the important values of the land, and to the extent feasible and practicable, the individual desires and goals of the landowner.  For instance, an easement may specifically permit educational activities like archaeological digs or annual public events like a fishing derby.

Once signed by the landowner and the easement holder, the conservation easement deed is recorded at the county Registry of Deeds as a permanent public record, thus allowing all future owners and lenders to be aware of the conservation easement on the property.