What is a Conservation Easement?
The Conservancy protects private lands with a legal agreement known as a conservation easement—a somewhat confusing term because the word “easement” can sometimes denote access, which is not the case. Over 11,000 acres of private lands that the Conservancy has protected with conservation easements are closed to the public and remain in private hands. This legal tool restricts development on the land, protects its natural features and each agreement is tailored so that it does what is best for the land and the landowner.
A conservation easement is a legal agreement between a landowner and the Leelanau Conservancy that permanently limits a property’s uses in order to protect its conservation values. These agreements are not a new concept in property law, as similar agreements have been in force all across the United States since the late 1800’s. However, conservation easements were a rarity in Michigan before 1990. They are not a rarity any longer, and the Leelanau Conservancy has received over 157 conservation easements since its founding in 1988.
If you own land with important natural resources, voluntarily donating a conservation easement can be one of the smartest ways to conserve land you love while maintaining your private property rights and realizing significant federal tax benefits. Considering the donation of a conservation easement can be a very important part of a comprehensive family estate plan, avoiding potentially contentious disputes among children or other heirs. Because a conservation easement conveys the value of development rights to a charitable organization, donors may qualify for a variety of income, property, and estate tax benefits.
In 2016 Congress made the income tax incentives for donations of conservation easement permanent. The Land Trust Alliance or LTA has a brochure outlining these changes. Tax incentive brochure (2016)