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 VDOF accepts donated conservation easements on working forests from across the Commonwealth and can partner with landowners to ensure that sustainable forest management will continue on the property forever. A VDOF working forest conservation easement is similar to a traditional conservation easement, except that the easement terms are primarily developed to protect the working forest and guide long-term natural resources stewardship.
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.
As of late 2020, VDOF’s easement portfolio includes more than 86,000 acres through more than 200 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.
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.
|Forest Legacy Program||P00200|
Brochure provides information regarding the Forest Legacy Program available to landowners for conserving their forestland, including program overview, public purposes, methods of acquisition, application process, and program requirements. Printed copies available.
|Forest Legacy Program Application – Conservation Easement||10.04||Form||View||forestland-conservation||form|
|Forest Legacy Program Application – Fee Simple Purchase||10.05||Form||View||forestland-conservation||form|
|Forest Legacy Program Application – Property Data Sheet||10.06||Form||View||forestland-conservation||form|
|Landowner Options for Forestland Conservation||P00146|
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.
|Open-Space Easement Donation Application||10.01||Form||View||forestland-conservation||form|
|Open-Space Easement Landowner Checklist||10.02||Form||View||forestland-conservation||form|
If you’re unsure where to start, contact your local VDOF forester for guidance.