What is a conservation easement?
A conservation easement is a legal agreement between a willing private landowner and a land trust (such as Inland Northwest Land Trust) or a government agency that permanently limits uses of the land in order to protect its conservation values. The land remains in private ownership. The landowner continues to use the land and may sell it or pass it on to heirs. Typically, the landowner chooses to restrict the amount of future development of the land in order to preserve it for open space, wildlife habitat, or timber production. The permanent protections run with the land and remain in place even after the easement donor has given or sold the land to others.
You still own and manage your land
When you donate a conservation easement to a qualified land trust, you are only giving away some of your rights to the land. Most easements restrict the amount of future development of the land in order to preserve it for open space, wildlife habitat, agriculture, or timber production. You still maintain ownership and management of your land, and can sell or pass the land on to your heirs. The permanent protections run with the land and remain in place even after you have given or sold your land to someone else.
Who can donate a conservation easement?
Easement donors come from all walks of life. They are people who love their land enough to conserve it for its natural open space, scenic view, wildlife habitat, timber production, farming, or other conservation values. Individuals, corporations, S corporations, LLCs, LLPs, and family trusts can donate a conservation easement.
What are the benefits of donating a conservation easement?
One of the main benefits of a conservation easement is the peace of mind that comes from knowing your cherished land is permanently protected for future generations. Easements preserve the conservation values of the land: agricultural production, wildlife habitat, scenic beauty, water, and air filtration, to name a few. The land trust monitors its easements to ensure that the protections are honored. Easements are also a way to permanently protect the land while retaining private ownership and control.
What about the federal tax incentives for donated conservation easements?
Landowners that donate a conservation easement may deduct the value of that charitable gift on their income taxes, much in the same way other charitable gifts may be deducted. If you are considering a conservation easement, you should consult with your financial and legal advisors for details.
Where does a land trust fit in?
A conservation easement donation requires not only a willing donor, but a qualified conservation organization to accept the donation. The land trust ensures that the easement restrictions are enforced. A land trust will not accept a conservation easement donation that does not fit its mission and purposes.
What is Inland Northwest Land Trust?
Formed in 1991, INLT is a local nonprofit organization that works with willing private landowners to help them conserve their land for its natural, recreational, scenic, and productive values. Our mission is to preserve and protect the region's natural lands, waters, and working farms and forests for the benefit of wildlife, our community, and future generations. INLT is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation registered in Idaho and Washington. INLT works primarily in five counties in Washington (Spokane, Lincoln, Pend Oreille, Stevens, and Adams) and two counties in Idaho (Kootenai and Bonner). The majority of our work is in those areas that are under greatest development pressure-mostly Spokane, Kootenai, and Bonner Counties.
How does INLT protect land?
INLT works with willing private landowners who want to protect their land from unwanted development. One way we do that is through conservation agreements with landowners to preserve their land's conservation values in perpetuity. INLT also works with government agencies and other conservation organizations or connects interested landowners with these groups.
Does INLT tell landowners how to manage their land?
No. The landowner continues to own and manage the land. INLT is not a regulatory agency. INLT does require that the landowner have a Forest Management Plan before harvesting timber, that the harvest is supervised by a professional forester, and that INLT be given advance notice of the timber harvest. The Forest Management Plan specifies the terms of timber harvesting, not INLT.
What kind of land is INLT interested in?
As a general rule, we are looking for willing landowners who have 100 or more acres with significant conservation values that they would like to conserve. Our minimum size is 40 acres. We are particularly interested in forest, wetlands, and riparian habitat. We also look to whether protecting a particular parcel has an impact-by buffering already protected land or because of some unique aspect, such as an endangered plant community or important habitat. The extent of the desired conservation restrictions is an important factor as well.
Are there other organizations that accept conservation easements?
Yes. Inland Northwest Land Trust is a local land trust working in eastern Washington and northern Idaho. Other areas have local land trusts and there are several national land trusts working in the Northwest as well. Each organization has its own easement criteria and requirements.
What does it cost to create a new conservation easement?
Conservation easement donors pay for a title insurance policy and their own advisor's fees. In order to take an income tax deduction, the easement donor will need to hire an appraiser to put a value on the easement. Easement donors may also need to pay for a property survey, an attorney to clear title, or a geologist or environmental specialist if there are mining issues on the property. Inland Northwest Land Trust incurs substantial expenses investigating, negotiating, preparing, and documenting each new conservation easement. INLT does not charge landowners for these costs. INLT does, however, request a donation to its Stewardship Fund to provide the financial resources required for INLT to carry out its duties in perpetuity.
Can I undo my easement later?
No. To be eligible for a tax deduction, a conservation easement must be permanent. Before you sign the conservation easement agreement, read it carefully to ensure that any restrictions are acceptable to you. If there are any terms you do not understand, consult your attorney and ask the land trust to explain. Every conservation easement is tailored to the needs of the land, the landowner, and the land trust. Some terms may be negotiated before the easement donation is finalized. No land trust wants you to regret the decision later because it cannot be undone. Please be very sure before you donate a conservation easement.
I'm thinking about a conservation easement to protect my land. What should I do next?
Every easement is tailored to the needs of the land and the landowner. Please call Chris DeForest at Inland Northwest Land Trust to discuss your vision for your land. If INLT is not the right organization for you, we can refer you to other land trusts.
Inland Northwest Land Trust
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