Rural Land Conservation Easements
What is a Rural Land Conservation Easement?
An easement is an interest in land owned by another that entitles its holder to a specific limited use. Conservation easements are one of America's most commonly applied rural land preservation strategies. A landowner donates or sells easements that entitle a government agency, land trust, or other conservation organization to limit or prohibit development of the land in question. The land is still owned by the individual, but she or he cannot develop the property beyond the established limits, regardless of its zoning. Easements can be made in perpetuity, meaning that the easement is maintained even when the land is sold, so that subsequent owners abide by the development restrictions established by the holder.
Who can implement it?
Authorized under the Montana Open Space Land and Voluntary Conservation Easement Act (Title 76 Chapter 6 Part 2 MCA), landowners can voluntarily restrict development on a given parcel of their land through a negotiated agreement with a land trust, a conservation organization, or a government agency.
Landowners can sell their easement to the agency for cash, or they can donate it in exchange for substantial reductions in estate and Federal income taxes. Easements can be made in perpetuity and incumbent upon future landowners, or they can be temporary (a minimum of 15 years).
What are the keys to success and potential pitfalls?
Adequate Staff Resources: Rural land conservation programs require staff capable of managing the financial transactions and day-to-day stewardship of the preserved lands. Staff and resources are also needed to develop educational materials and encourage landowners to participate in the program. In many cases, local governments rely upon nonprofit agency staff to perform these functions.
Ongoing Funding: Public and private agencies use a broad range of funding sources to purchase conservation easements. Some localities allocate general government funds to an easement program. Local and state agencies can also support conservation easement programs with designated portions of funding streams such as impact fees or lottery revenues. Private nonprofit organizations often raise funds from community members and foundations, supplemented by public or private grants.
Where has this strategy been applied?
Examples in Montana
Examples outside of Montana
How can I get started?
Many private landowners already participate in rural land preservation efforts, particularly conservation easement programs. A number of land trusts exist in Montana to handle the purchase or donation of conservation easements for rural preservation. Local governments can simply serve as a conduit for these well-established programs by educating themselves on the plethora of land banks that already exist in the state.
A first step is to research the existing land trusts in the state to better understand the priorities and missions of each organization. The community can then direct a private landowner to the appropriate entity should an opportunity for preservation arise.
Where can I get more information?