A conservation easement is a legal document that a landowner and the land trust create together to restrict some uses of a property in perpetuity. The land remains in private ownership, and, depending on the conservation easement’s terms, can be used by the current owners or future owners for residences, farming, forestry, recreation, education, or other designated purposes. Many landowners retain the right to keep or build a specific number of structures for their family’s future needs; the easement then includes one or more Residential Zones with minimal restrictions. Conservation easements can be flexible enough to accommodate such needs, as long as natural resource values are protected.
A conservation easement is a practical way for landowners to protect environmentally significant land while retaining their ownership. An easement allows the owner to sell their property in the future and be confident the land’s natural resource values will continue to be protected. People create conservation easements on their land for different reasons, including:
- Effective preservation for future generations.
- Protection for old growth or a forest logged with sustainable practices, a meadow of California native plants, a wildlife corridor, agricultural land, an old homestead, open space, or a viable watercourse for fish spawning.
- Estate planning that allows heirs to continue to own and protect family property, farms and ranches, with a reduced estate tax impact.
Each easement is drafted individually to fit the natural characteristics of the land, the personal vision of the landowner for the property’s future use, and the goals of the conservation organization. Creation of the easement follows a thorough review and discussion of the uses of the property and its natural characteristics. The result is a legally enforceable agreement between the landowner and the land trust under relevant state and federal laws. The easement becomes part of the title to the property. All future owners must manage the property consistent with the easement’s restrictions, even if it is thereafter sold or transferred to heirs.
Perpetual Protection of Land
Anderson Valley Land Trust has established a Stewardship Program to annually monitor the conservation easements that we hold, and to make sure their goals are met in perpetuity. This program is supported in part by an endowment, which is funded through contributions from each conservation project and through other capital gifts. The stewardship endowment is kept separate from our general operating fund, so AVLT will always have the resources to help us meet our stewardship responsibilities.