Conservation Easements

Conservation easements are voluntary and permanent legal agreements that restrict some land use to protect important conservation values.  Conservation easements help preserve special places by limiting some of the rights of land ownership—such as the rights to develop, subdivide, or harvest.  The organization holding the easement, a non profit land trust or public agency, shares the resposibility to make sure the terms of the easement are upheld.

The Basics

A conservation easement is an agreement between two parties defining limits on land use in order to protect specified natural resources on the land.  Conservation easements need both parties, the landowner and the easement holder, and both parties have legal obligations to make sure the easement is honored.

Once an easement is conveyed, the landowner has agreed to forego some rights of ownership to protect the land -- the right to subdivide the property, perhaps.  The easement holder does not own those rights, and cannot sell or transfer them to another party.  Instead, the land trust or other organization holding the easement is responsible for making sure the terms of the easement are upheld.

While a landowner retains the right to own and sell the property, the easement’s restrictions will remain permanently attached to the property's title. Therefore, future owners of the land will be bound to the agreement.

There is no standard set of restrictions. Conservation easements are very flexible legal tools.  Some easements prohibit any subdivision or construction, others define limits to allowable development.  Some allow for sustainable harvest.  Each easement is customized to the land it protects by the landowner and easement holder.

Easements can be either donated or sold to a land trust or public agency easement holder.  Even if an easement is donated and no money changes hands, conveying an easement is technically a transaction of a partial interest in real estate.  Easement value is determined by a defined and regulated appraisal procedure.  

If you are considering a conservation easement, you should seek the advice of an attorney with conservation easement experience.

For more information, download our Conservation Easement Fact Sheet.

Tax Advantages of Conservation Easement Donations

In Wisconsin, there are state and federal income tax incentives specifically associated with donations of conservation easements.  Conservation tax incentives have helped thousands of landowners choose lasting conservation. The following are some possible tax advantages you may be eligible to receive.

  • If the donation meets the federal tax code requirements as a qualified conservation contribution, you can claim it as a tax-deductible charitable donation.
  • You may see reduced property taxes on the eased land.
  • You may be eligible for estate tax reductions, though the fate of the estate tax is currently uncertain.

It's important to note that tax savings are neither guaranteed nor expeditious. Conservation gifts can take several months to close and potential federal tax benefits vary with the particulars of each donation.

For more detailed information, download our fact sheet on the Tax Advantages of Conservation EasementsAnyone considering an easement donation should consult an experienced attorney.


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