Mt. Rainier looms over forest and agriculture land
Photo by Margot Cheel

Conservation easements 101

Urban sprawl overtakes two acres of productive agricultural land in America every minute.*

Land near urban areas is under increasing pressure to sell yet farmland is essential to maintaining the health of our communities and quality of life for residents. Farming and ranching provide locally grown food while protecting critical habitat for wildlife, soil and watersheds, and in some cases, scenic and recreational resources.

Agricultural land near urban areas is under increasing development pressure
Photo by Todd Parker

A solution

Conservation easements are one way to prevent the loss of this important land by permanently protecting it from real estate development. Development rights are removed from the land – through a purchase or donation – and enable local businesses and families to be fairly compensated for their lands’ development potential while continuing to own and manage the property.

Communities are able to plan more effectively by directing growth into areas most appropriate for conservation easements, enabling a community to grow while simultaneously conserving its resource lands and helping to keep farming and timber production viable industries. Conservation easements are a voluntary approach and help encourage growth to occur in urban areas where there is more adequate infrastructure, jobs and other amenities.

The nitty-gritty details

A conservation easement is a voluntary legal agreement between a landowner and a qualified conservation organization or government entity. The easement reflects what the landowner wishes to protect and is a permanently binding agreement to ensure these wishes will be upheld into the future.

Landowners can obtain immediate financial benefit by choosing to sell an easement. Alternatively, landowners can donate a conservation easement which enables the landowner to take advantage of potential tax deductions. The value of the sale or tax deduction varies depending on the fair market value of the property and the type of future restrictions placed upon it.

Forterra works with interested landowners to determine the best plan for the future of their land.

Forterra’s role

To date, Forterra has assisted in 117 conservation easements. Forterra works with interested landowners to determine the best plan for the future of their land. In some cases, the easement is between Forterra and the landowner, while other times, Forterra assists the landowner in creating an easement with a government entity.

Forterra pursues funding, often a mix of government and grant funds, to compensate the landowner. The compensation value is the difference between the property’s fair market value before and after the sale of the conservation easement, which is determined through an appraisal process. Future owners will also be bound by the easement’s terms. A land trust, like Forterra, or a government entity is responsible for making sure the easement’s terms are followed.

* American Farmland Trust