Our region remains one of the fastest growing in the state and east coast and we seem to be confronted with the tension between growth and land loss on a daily basis. Permanent land conservation is one way to balance incoming growth and protect our natural resources including access to clean water, healthy forests, working farms, and wildlife habitat. Land conservation helps our region protect itself against rising sea levels and storms, achieve greater community resilience and provide room for marsh migration. Land conservation also provides visual and physical access to land which is essential for public health, recreation, and quality of life.
We protect land by conservation easement and fee ownership.
A conservation easement is a permanent, legal agreement that applies to a specific property; it is a specialized document that is tailored to each landowner and each property. The land remains in private ownership, but we visit each property at least yearly and work with the landowner to protect conservation values. Properties located in priority conservation corridors, biologically able to support threatened and endangered species, in operation as working farms and forests, and located along rivers and scenic road corridors are all strong candidates for conservation easements.
Fee ownership occurs when we chose to purchase the property directly. Some examples are some of the most iconic properties in our community including the Bay Street Bluff, Bellamy Curve, Lemon Island, and Bluffton Oyster Factory Park. In some cases, incompatible development would have occurred if we did not purchase these properties. Your support enables the purchase and stewardship of these critical properties.
We work with landowners and their trusted advisors – lawyers, accountants, finance professionals – to help them achieve the best conservation outcome for their property. Doing the right thing can come with some financial incentives: tax incentives and in some cases outright funding, can benefit a willing landowner who wants to do the right thing and protect their property forever.
A conservation easement is a permanent, legal tool that protects conservation values specific to each property. The donation of a conservation easement often qualifies as a charitable contribution, allowing the donor to take a federal income tax deduction for the value of the contribution. The Internal Revenue Code 170 outlines appraisal requirements that the donor must satisfy in order to qualify for a tax deduction. To document the value of their gift, conservation easement donors must attach IRS Form 8283 to their tax returns.
In addition to the detailed instructions for Form 8283, the Internal Revenue Service has a number of publications that provide information related to claiming a charitable contribution for the donation of a conservation easement. These publications are available on the internet at www.irs.gov and from the Internal Revenue Service.
As with other aspects of donating an easement, the Open Land Trust highly recommends that all easement donors obtain professional advice from a knowledgeable attorney, accountant or other financial advisor before completing their tax returns.
We work in seven counties: Beaufort, Jasper, Hampton, Colleton, Barnwell, Bamberg and Allendale. This includes major watersheds like the ACE Basin, Port Royal Sound Watershed, and Savannah River Preserve area.
We aim to connect private land protection with publicly accessible conservation areas including state parks and Wildlife Management Areas and to knit together contiguous conservation communities where water and wildlife benefit from existing within a larger protected landscape.
The Open Land Trust does not provide legal or tax advice so we encourage landowners to speak with qualified appraisers, certified public accountants, and legal professionals to help determine value, discuss tax incentives, and provide legal advice.
The SC Conservation Bank publishes a list of qualified appraisers that have experience with conservation easements. You can access that list here. https://sccbank.sc.gov/application/approved-appraiser-list
The Open Land Trust will not knowingly participate in conservation easement projects where it has significant concerns about the appraisal values or the tax deduction.
Including our wonderful landowners, our partners are essential to success. When we work in partnership with national, regional, and local conservation organizations so we can leverage funding resources, increase technical capacity and provide more to our community. Partnerships include ACE Basin Task Force , SC Land Trust Network, Department of Defense/REPI, Beaufort County Rural and Critical Lands Preservation Program and more.
Properties are protected forever – Every ½ acre and every 4,000-acre property is protected forever. Once the easement is recorded, we are responsible for Stewardship. This means we monitor and enforce the standards in the conservation easement but so much more – we provide resources and support to the conservation landowner to ensure that the conservation values of the property continue to exist grow over time. When properties protected by easement sell, we want to meet the new landowners as soon as possible and establish a strong relationship. To landowners, we are a partner and to the community, we are the guardian of conservation values. This requires staff time, legal support, and board oversight. For more information on stewardship, please contact Caylor Romines at Caylor@openlandtrust.org
Wonderful! Give us a call and we can start the conversation. We will look forward to visiting your property, discussing the conservation values you can protect, and working with you. For more information, see our Guide to Conservation Easements and reach out to Kate Schaefer at firstname.lastname@example.org
Your support matters to our daily operations! We hope you can attend many Open Land Trust events in the community: your enthusiasm helps others learn about conservation and supports important conservation projects and policy in our community. You can give your time: our staff looks to community volunteers on an ad-hoc basis and you can sign up to learn more. You can contribute financially to our operations: your financial support helps retain and train staff, supports long-term property stewardship, and supports daily operations so we can achieve our shared mission. For more information, reach out to Ashley Rhodes at email@example.com
Ask for an OLT staff member to come to your events: We love to provide conservation resources to the public, special interest groups, landowners, community organizations, schools, and local government officials. For outreach opportunities, reach out to Haley Romeo at Haley@openlandtrust.org
Support Our Work
Annual supporters receive biannual mailings and monthly e-newsletters about the work at the Open Land Trust; supporters also receive early invitations to community events, including field trips.