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What is a conservation easement?

A conservation easement is a legally binding agreement landowners can use to permanently protect a property's natural, agricultural, timber or recreational resources by limiting its development potential. The agreement is between a landowner and a conservation organization such as the Richmond Land Trust.


Under the easement's terms, landowners continue to own and use the land while they sustain its resources, according to specifics spelled out in the agreement. The conservation organization agrees to work with current and future landowners to make sure the agreement's terms are honored even when ownership of the property changes. 

What do easements allow and not allow?

Conservation easements are designed to protect a property's important features, such as wildlife habitat, quality agricultural soils, river corridors or timber resources. That makes each agreement unique. Richmond Land Trust works closely with landowners to incorporate allowances into the easement to accommodate future plans while still protecting the property's key resources. 

What kind of land does the Richmond Land Trust conserve? 

Our focus is on woodlands, wildlife habitat, working farms and quality farmland, and places the Richmond community uses for education and recreation. We look for parcels with excellent resources, unique natural features, or special importance to our town's residents.

What are the costs involved?

Most conservation organizations, Richmond Land Trust included, ask for a contribution to cover their immediate expenses and longer term stewardship costs. Sometimes we are able to get funding to offset a portion of these costs. Landowners are responsible for covering their own legal and appraisal expenses. As noted below, the costs may be at least somewhat offset by savings on income, estate and property taxes. (Along with, of course, the many intangible benefits that come with knowing that you're permanently protecting some of the best features of your land.)

What are the income tax and estate tax benefits of donating an easement?

Landowners who donate qualified conservation easements may be eligible for federal, and in some cases, state income tax deductions. These can be used to help offset income and capital gains taxes and reduce potential future estate taxes -- sometimes in very significant ways.

Of course, tax rates and regulations frequently change, and the latest IRS rules must always be followed. It is important for landowners to work with their own tax adviser to calculate the financial benefits they may gain by donating a conservation easement.

Will my land reduce my property taxes?

Sometimes. By limiting a property's ability to be developed its financial value is usually reduced. Vermont’s listers are supposed to factor this in when they assess a conserved property's value. Having a property appraised for its development potential before conservation can help make the case for changing the assessed value after the land is conserved. 

However, every situation is different, and the tax savings, if any, can be small. They hinge on the development value of the land being conserved.


If land is already enrolled in Vermont’s Use Value Appraisal Program (also known as Current Use) it is already being taxed as productive farm or forestland—usually at a rate that is lower than the municipal assessment. Many owners of conserved land stay enrolled in the program and continue to pay taxes at the Use-Value rate.

If I conserve my land must I let the public use it?

Not unless that provision is in the signed agreement. That said, many landowners honor Vermont’s tradition of allowing neighbors to enjoy land for hiking or hunting. If public money was used to conserve land, the owners may be required to allow access. A common exception is with farmland, since public access can conflict with the agricultural uses. 

Some privately owned conserved properties have trails or features that have long been enjoyed by neighbors or the public. In these cases, landowners have often included a provision in their easement to permit public use of the land in keeping with the purposes of the agreement.

How do I know the land will continue being protected after it changes hands?

A very important and lasting part of RLT's work is to check in on the land we have conserved to make sure that nothing is happening that goes against the agreement. Modifications to the agreement -- especially relaxations -- are extremely difficult to obtain. We regularly visit properties, walk the land, speak with landowners, review aerial data, and follow up on any concerns. Violations are rare and most are minor. But when they do occur, we first try to work with the landowner and/or neighbors to address them.


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