Protect your Land
What is a conservation easement?
A conservation easement is a voluntary agreement between a landowner and qualified land trust that legally restricts undesirable land uses from occurring on his or her property. Each conservation easement is unique and is designed to ensure a property will never be developed and the ecological, scenic and recreational values are protected forever.
Landowners who enter into a conservation agreement with the land trust continue to own the conserved property and pay property taxes, but are free to sell the land. They also may continue to use the land for farming, forestry, recreation, education and other activities that sustain the property’s special resources. A conservation easement is permanent and will be tied to the land, whether the land is sold or remains within the family. Conservation easements also never allow public access to your property without landowner permission.
What type of property can be protected with a conservation easement?
Property with significant ecological, historic, scenic or natural resource value including forests, farmland, wetlands, waterways, beaches and other natural or historic areas can be protected.
In regard to federal tax benefits, the Internal Revenue Service code and regulations have specific criteria for what is eligible. A conservation easement donation can qualify as a tax deductible contribution if the following requirements are met:
It is donated 1.) in perpetuity; 2.) to a qualified charitable organization; 3.) exclusively for conservation purposes as defined in the tax code as accomplishing at least one of the following:
- Preservation of land for outdoor recreation or the education of the general public;
- Protection of relatively natural habitat for fish, wildlife, or plants or similar ecosystems;
- Preservation of open space where preservation will yield a significant public benefit and is (a) for the scenic enjoyment of the general public or (b) pursuant to a clearly delineated federal, state or local government conservation policy;
- Preservation of a historically important land area or certified historic structure.
Enhanced federal tax incentives were made permanent at the end of 2015. Landowners can deduct the conservation value of a protected property up to 50 percent of adjusted gross income (AGI). If the value of the donation exceeds the limit in the year the conservation easement was gifted, the deduction can be carried forward for up to 15 years. If most of a landowner’s income is from farming or forestry, 100 percent of AGI can be deducted.
Seeking Professional Advice
The Beaufort County Open Land Trust recommends landowners seek professional advice to review the conservation easement draft and for information about charitable deductions specific to their situation. BCOLT does not provide legal or tax advice.
An appraiser will determine the market value of the conservation easement, which is required to claim tax benefits. An attorney should review the conservation easement draft to provide legal advice as well as verify clear title. A surveyor may be needed to clearly delineate the property to be protected or update an existing survey. An accountant will assist in filing your 8283 tax form and help to determine any tax implications.
Conservation easements are forever. With each easement, the Beaufort County Open Land Trust accepts responsibility to protect that land and its conservation values in perpetuity. The donation of a conservation easement is an act of generosity by a landowner. In accepting this easement, the Beaufort County Open Land Trust assumes the legal obligation to carry out the donor’s desires for the property by upholding the terms of the easement forever.
The Beaufort County Open Land Trust manages a dedicated Stewardship and Defense Fund to provide a long-term source of income to cover future costs associated with monitoring and managing our portfolio of conservation easements. The fund is also available to cover extraordinary expenses associated with managing, upholding or defending an easement should its terms or validity be violated or threatened. Contributions to the stewardship fund are pooled from a number of sources, including landowners, and are managed judiciously. Each conservation easement donor is requested to provide a donation to the Stewardship Fund.
Meet with the land trust staff to assess the conservation opportunities best suited to the property’s resources and your vision for the future of your land. Call us at 843-521-2175 or contact us to learn more about how to conserve your land and be a part of keeping Lowcountry special for future generations. For more information about the next steps to take, download the Donated Easement Landowner Information document and the Checklist for Donating a Conservation Easement.
Fee Land Donation
The Beaufort County Open Land Trust occasionally accepts fee simple land donations. Call the land trust at 843-521-2175 for more information if you are interested in donating a piece of property.
For more Information on Conservation Easements
Appraisal Guidance and Tax Benefits
- Protected Lands - Conservation Easements
- Protected Lands - Fee Simple Protected Lands
- R & C Partnership Factsheet
- Fee purchase and Conservation Easements
- Conservation Partnerships
- Rural and Critical Program Process
- 2014 Greenprint Narrative
- Bond Referendum Ballot Questions
- Checklist for Donating a Conservation Easement
- Donated Easement Landowner Information
- Information about Purchased Easements
- Land Trust Alliance Fact Sheet