What is a conservation easement?

Welcome to the launch of our new Conservation Easements 101 blog series!

Through a series of short articles, we’ll cover basic concepts and provide helpful tips and considerations for landowners who want to learn more about conservation easements.

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What is a conservation easement?

A recorded conservation easement creates enforceable land use restrictions that run with the land and are binding on all subsequent owners. Easements are the only legal instrument capable of protecting land forever.

What does a conservation easement do and who is involved?

Conservation easements protect land from future development. They do this by identifying certain development rights associated with a property, separating those rights from the property’s ownership profile, and deeding them to a third-party “holder” for safekeeping.

Private land trusts typically take on the role of the easement holder, although local governments are also qualified to accept easement interests under federal and state law.

After a landowner decides who their easement holder will be, the parties work together to establish a mutually agreeable set of easement terms.

What property rights are reserved by the landowner?

While each easement is unique and tailored to fit the specific needs of a property owner, all conservation landowners reserve the right to exclude others.

Other rights retained by the landowner include the right to sell or convey the property, the right to conduct limited residential or commercial activities, and the right to engage in existing uses of the property. For example, landowners with conservation easements continue to use their property to graze livestock, hunt, fish, and produce agricultural products.

What land uses does a conservation easement restrict and who enforces the restrictions?

One of the reasons why easements are successful at conserving land is because they prevent future landowners from subdividing properties into smaller tracts. Easements also prohibit surface mining activities and the sale of water rights. Impervious cover limitations establish an overall percentage of the property that can be paved.

The holder of a conservation easement is responsible for enforcing the restrictions contained in the easement deed. Easement holders inspect properties annually to make sure the landowner is complying with the terms of the easement agreement. Land trust staff work with landowners to coordinate annual monitoring visits.

Who has access to my land once the conservation easement is in place?

A conservation easement does not grant public access over a landowner’s private property. Under the terms of an easement, landowners retain the right to exclude others from their property. 

Are there financial benefits to donating or selling a conservation easement?

Landowners who donate conservation easement interests to qualified holders are entitled to claim significant federal income tax deductions. Conservation easements also result in important estate tax benefits for certain landowners. Landowners seeking to monetize their easement interests should explore funding opportunities based on their property’s natural features and the conservation goals of available funding programs.

Learn more about properties our clients have protected below. 

Conservation Easement

Candlelight Ranch

Situated on the shores of Lake Travis, the 124-acre Candlelight Ranch is an iconic Texas landscape featuring towering limestone bluffs along the Colorado River, a beautiful grotto, and a spring-fed creek surrounded by grasslands and oak groves. 

Cathedral Oaks Preserve

“The conservation easement on Cathedral Oaks Preserve protects native habitats, water quality, and scenic views from public spaces as the property adjoins the future Hays County park, El Rancho Cima.” – Stephen Ramirez

Conservation Easement
Conservation Easement

Ellis County Rural Heritage Farm

“Through a conservation easement with TLC, landowner Lu Ann Aday has ensured that this historic farm will continue to allow for discovery of the natural world. Visitors and students will find a place in Ellis County untouchable to encroaching development and rich with lessons from the past.” – Sean Bibby