When I studied Forestry and Wildlife Management at Virginia Tech concentrating in Environmental Conservation back in the late 70’s and early 80’s, there were not many options for applying a land owners conservation beliefs to their land in perpetuity. Now we’ve got a variety of options including Conservation Easements. If you own or are looking to purchase land and want to tie your conservation ethics to the land, Conservation Easements may provide the tool accomplish this goal. I recently attended a Conservation Partners, Inc. easement seminar, where the Virginia Outdoors Foundation, The Virginia Department of Forestry, The National Resources Conservation Services (US Department of Agriculture), The Thomas Jefferson Soil and Water Conservation District and the audience discussed the wide variety of conservation easements available in Virginia. The cool thing about all these easement programs includes people to help you understand and evaluate the programs so can determine if an easements meets your individual needs! Some of the easement programs last for defined periods of time instead of perpetuity, which appeals to some land owners.
Should you place conservation easements on your land? That’s a personal decision that should be made after consulting your attorney, CPA, estate planner, possibly family and others. Some conservation easements continue for perpetuity while others feature limited durations. Real estate consists of a bundle (timber, mineral, open space, development, division, building, hunting, farming, fishing, etc) of rights. With a conservation easement you will be giving up and/or limiting some of your real estate rights (ability to subdivide, number and size of homes, building site location, etc.). You can retain the right to hunt, fish, live, build a home, farm, etc. Educating yourself to the legal, federal and state income tax plus estate tax implications remains a critical step in determining if conservation easements offer a viable option in passing your conservation ethic into the future. Since you give up some of the rights with conservation easement, you reduce the value of the real estate, which can provide tax credits and other financial benefits. I don’t give legal or tax advice so I would strongly urge to you to seek competent advice in these areas prior to entering into a binding agreement for conservation easements.
Conservation easements may affect the marketability of your real estate as well as the value. You may may not be planning to sell but circumstances can change. Evaluate the easements to make sure your hands will not be tied making the property hard to sell should you need to sell in the future. If you have questions or want to discuss conservation easements, let’s talk. I don’t claim to have all the answers but am enjoying digging into options for conservation easements in Virginia!