We Protect Land Through Conservation Easements

A conservation easement is a voluntary and permanent agreement between a landowner and an entity like the Georgia-Alabama Land Trust. A conservation easement preserves the character of the land that owners have developed over generations. It recognizes the uses of the land and protects its integrity.

Conservation easements are flexible, and no two easements are exactly alike. Working together, landowners and the Georgia-Alabama Land Trust can craft conservation easements that reflect both the landowner’s desires and the individual needs of the land under protection.

When you donate a conservation easement, you give up some of the rights associated with the land, such as the right to subdivide the land, while retaining the right to grow crops and harvest trees. Landowners continue to own and use their land, and they can sell it or pass it on to their heirs. A conservation easement runs with the land, and future owners will be bound by the easement’s terms.

To learn more about conservation easements and ways to preserve and protect land, please contact us.

What is a Conservation Easement?

As a Land Trust, our organization plays a role in helping landowners protect land that may have been in their families for generations. Conservation easements are legally binding agreements created between a landowner and a land trust. No two easements are alike and, depending on the desires of the landowner and the natural attributes of the land, can be complex.

Land ownership can be thought of as holding a “bundle of sticks”, one stick is the right to live on the land; one to cut trees; one to farm; one to draw groundwater; one to develop houses; one to subdivide; one to mine minerals; one to leave to heirs; one to mortgage, etc.

The magic of ownership in the USA is that those rights–the sticks–are separable and transferable via deeds, some of which are easements. To give someone a deeded right to cross your land, (a right of way easement) you hand off one stick. You can give someone the right to drill for water on your land by handing off another stick. A conservation easement is simply the handoff (donation or sale) of selected sticks representing intensive and undesired uses of the land: subdivide, develop, mine, dump, etc. to a land trust or other qualified holder. Except the holder doesn’t get to exercise those rights. Rather, the holder is bound to prevent anyone from exercising those rights, forever. Sometimes I say those sticks are burned.

Here’s the key: after handing over the sticks representing the conservation easement, the landowner is left still holding some of his or her original sticks. These are, in effect, the uses permitted under the conservation easement, explicit and implicit.

How conservation easements work

Every conservation easement must meet certain criteria. First, the land must have Conservation Values, set forth in the tax code, and include such things as relatively natural habitat for native animals and plants, productive forest, agricultural lands, and protection of water quality. All conservation easements must have a baseline documentation report (BDR), a snapshot in time of the property that documents the property’s conservation values and maps out areas to be preserved.

For more information on the easement process, click HERE.

Standard and Practices

The Georgia-Alabama Land Trust, Inc. operates in accordance with Standards and Practices adopted through our accreditation by the Land Trust Alliance (LTA). Our adherence to the Standards and Practices ensures that landowners receive ethical, professional advice. Our operations are undertaken in accordance with the most recent best management practices from LTA and the various governmental entities that have a say in the rules governing conservation easements.

Learn more about Land Trust Alliance standards and practices

Our standards and practices are listed HERE

Reserved Rights

The rights reserved within the conservation easements, such as agriculture, timber management, construction of barns, sheds, houses, and ponds, must be compatible with and allow for the protection of the conservation easements. For example, if the easement protects prime agricultural land, the landowner would typically reserve the “farmstead area” (repair shop, equipment shed, etc.). The landowners pledge that their activities will be conducted in accordance with best management practices to ensure the property will remain productive.