Land Conservation Options

Land conservation 101:
helping you learn your options

Why should I conserve my land?

Protecting your land is a big decision. Although you value and take care of your land, there is no guarantee that future landowners will protect it in the same way. You can take steps now to ensure the preservation of your property. Contact Forterra or read on for more information.

What are my options?

There are many different conservation options available. The first step in the process is to ask yourself a few questions:

  1. What is my vision for the land? Picture your property in fifty years, what does it look like?
  2. Do you want to keep owning the land? Pass it along to a friend or family member? Relinquish ownership?
  3. Given your personal and financial situation, what benefits would you like to see from conserving your land? Is income or estate tax a concern? Are current property taxes an issue?

Because there are so many wonderful places in our region, far more than we can work on at any one time, we must carefully consider each project on a case by case basis. If you, as a landowner, neighbor, or other interested third party, would like us to consider a property, we ask that you fill out this short property questionnaire.

Conservation easements—partial interest

Conservation easements are one way to prevent the loss of this important land by permanently protecting it from real estate development.

Land ownership carries with it a bundle of rights—the right to develop, construct buildings, farm, restrict access or harvest timber, among others. A landowner can give up one or more of those rights for a purpose such as conservation while retaining ownership of the remainder of the rights. In ceding a right, the landowner “eases” it to another entity, such as a land trust like Forterra.

For example, a landowner may give up the right to build additional structures while retaining the right to grow crops. 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. The extent and nature of the restrictions are based on the conservation goals of the landowner in combination with the goals of the land trust. Easements permanently protect the land, binding future landowners.

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.

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. Alternatively, landowners can donate a conservation easement which enables the landowner to take advantage of potential tax deductions. 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. A land trust, like Forterra, or a government entity is responsible for making sure the easement’s terms are followed.

Selling or donating land— fee simple interest

Often landowners want to see their land protected but also have financial needs. Selling land usually provides the greatest financial gain for landowner, but it is the most difficult to achieve. As a non-profit organization, we must rely on competitive grants and donations to secure funding for the purchase of land at fair market value. Frequently only properties with exceptional conservation or recreation value, or additions to existing conserved lands, are eligible for grants.

A landowner offering a bargain sale (that is, less than fair market value) to a land trust or government agency increases the chance that the conservation organization can obtain the funds for the purchase. In addition, tax savings realized by the seller may partially offset the financial sacrifice of a bargain sale.

Land donation is a good choice if a landowner has a property with significant conservation values and doesn’t want to own a property anymore, but is interested in maximizing tax benefits. The full market value of land donated to a nonprofit land trust is tax deductible as a charitable gift. A land trust might retain ownership of the property as a permanent preserve or transfer the property to a suitable owner, such as a government agency.

A gift can also be made to Forterra through a donation of trade lands- properties that may or may not have significant conservation characteristics. They can be developed or not, and can be residential, industrial, or commercial. These trade lands are donated to land trusts specifically to be sold (sometimes they are conserved with an easement and then sold) with the proceeds going to the land trust.

The donation can be outright or devised through a will, allowing the owners full use of the property during their lifetime, reducing the estate tax burdens faced by heirs, and assuring that the conservation value of the property are protected for future generations.

Stewardship fund

As you know, being a landowner comes with a number of responsibilities and we take these responsibilities seriously. In order to ensure the maintenance and preservation of your land forever, we typically require funds for stewardship of the property when you donate land or enter into a conservation easement. Forterra stewards the land we care for to enhance its ecological value and make it an asset to the local community. Read more about Forterra’s land stewardship and restoration efforts.