Conservation Easements

Conservation easements are just one of the many tools a landowner may employ to conserve their property long into the future.

A conservation easement is a voluntary legal agreement between a landowner and a government agency or land trust that permanently limits future development of the land to protect its conservation values. When landowners elect to donate an easement on their property, the terms are negotiated between the landowner and the organization that will hold the easement.

Under a conservation easement, landowners continue to own, use, and control their land, and can sell it or pass it on to heirs. Easements allow for and encourage rural land uses, such as forest management, agriculture, hunting and fishing. An easement does not require landowners to provide public access to their land.

A conservation easement protects land primarily by limiting the number of times the property can be subdivided. However, depending on the size and nature of the property, and the conservation values being protected, landowners often can retain the right to exercise one or more subdivisions. Conservation easements also include provisions for building homes, farm buildings and other structures typically found on rural land.

Easements are perpetual in nature – they protect the land forever. The terms of the easement apply to all future landowners, and the organization holding the easement is responsible for ensuring the easement’s terms are followed.

Benefits of a Conservation Easement

The primary reason landowners donate a conservation easement is to preserve their land in its natural state, while still allowing their family to live and work on the land. Many want to see their legacy of farm or forest management continued for their children and subsequent generations. Most value the peace of mind knowing that their land will always be protected from development.

Learn more about legacy and estate planning for intergenerational land transfers.

In addition, there are significant income tax and estate planning benefits. A gift of a qualified conservation easement in perpetuity may qualify as a non-cash charitable gift, which may yield a deduction for federal income tax purposes, a credit for state income tax purposes, local property tax reductions and federal estate tax exemptions.

Conservation Easements with the Virginia Department of Forestry

The Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF) holds open-space easements, regularly referred to as “conservation easements”, on managed forests across the Commonwealth. Conservation easements are legal agreements, voluntarily entered into by landowners and held in partnership with an easement holder, that limit future development and protect conservation attributes of a property. There are many organizations in the state that can hold conservation easements, including VDOF and other state agencies, the Virginia Outdoors Foundation, and local land trusts. A VDOF forest conservation easement is similar to conservation easements held by other organizations, except that VDOF easement terms are primarily developed to protect forestland, wetlands, and water features and to guide long-term natural resources stewardship.

Most Virginia landowners pursuing conservation easements complete the transaction as a donation, which may qualify as a charitable gift under federal and state tax laws, allowing the grantee to obtain a federal tax donation or Virginia state tax credit. In some cases, the VDOF can work with landowners and/or their representatives to pursue competitive grant-funding opportunities to compensate landowners for a portion of the easement’s value.

The VDOF conservation easement program prioritizes larger blocks of working forest that provide the greatest range of benefits. The focus remains on keeping the forestland intact and undivided, enabling landowners to manage their forestland for timber products and environmental values.

To read more about conservation easements in general in Virginia, visit the Department of Environmental Conservation’s website. For more information about the VDOF’s process for selecting easements, including application deadlines, read more about applying for a VDOF easement.

Existing Easements

As of late 2021, VDOF’s easement portfolio includes more than 87,565 acres through more than 196 easements in more than 60 counties and cities across the Commonwealth. These easements protect tens of thousands of acres of forestland as well as hundreds of miles of waterways, including land in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.


Get started planning for your forestland.

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Additional Resources

ImageTitleIDDescriptionContent Typedocument-category_hfilterMedia_hfilter
Conservation Easements
Conservation EasementsP00203

Brochure defines conservation easements and provides information about VDOF conservation easements, such as easement requirements, property criteria, benefits of an easement and donating an easement. Printed copies available.

Viewforestland-conservationpublication
Forestland Conservation Review 2013-04
Forestland Conservation Review 2013-04P00210

Report provides an update on current forest conservation topics in the Commonwealth, such as Forest Legacy Program, VDOF conservation easements, Virginia Grown program and more.

Viewforestland-conservationpublication
Forestland Conservation Review 2013-12
Forestland Conservation Review 2013-12P00210

Report provides an update on current forest conservation topics in the Commonwealth, such as Forest Legacy Program, VDOF conservation easements, Virginia Grown program and more.

Viewforestland-conservationpublication
Forestland Conservation Review 2014-10
Forestland Conservation Review 2014-10P00210

Report provides an update on current forest conservation topics in the Commonwealth, such as Forest Legacy Program, VDOF conservation easements, Virginia Grown program and more.

Viewforestland-conservationpublication
Forestland Conservation Review 2021-11
Forestland Conservation Review 2021-11P00210

Report provides an update on current forest conservation topics in the Commonwealth, VDOF conservation easements,  Generation Next planning, and more.

Viewforestland-conservationpublication
Landowner Options for Forestland Conservation
Landowner Options for Forestland ConservationP00146

Brochure provides information regarding options available to landowners for conserving their forestland, including use-value taxation, ag and forestal districts, riparian Buffer tax credit, cost-share assistance, conservation easements, purchase of development rights, grants for fee-simple acquisition and easements, and donations of property. Printed copies available.

Viewforestland-conservationpublication
Open-Space Easement Application
Open-Space Easement Application10.01Viewforestland-conservationform
Open-Space Easement Landowner Checklist
Open-Space Easement Landowner Checklist10.02Viewforestland-conservationform

Contact Us

If you’re unsure where to start, contact your local VDOF forester for guidance.

For more information or questions, e-mail us or use our contact form.