Eleven Point River Conservancy
Questions and Answers About Conservation Easements

A conservation easement provides a practical, legally effective means for a private landowner to protect forever the significant features of a property, or a portion of a property, while retaining private ownership. By defining and removing particular rights from the ownership of a parcel of land, the conservation easement creates permanent safeguards against uses of the land that could damage or destroy its conservation values.

Each conservation easement is written specifically to address the needs and desires of the owner, the natural characteristics of the land, and the conservation objectives of the protecting organization. Conservation easements are most often donated to nonprofit conservancy organizations, such as the Eleven Point River Conservancy, or to a governmental agency.

What is protected by conservation easements?

Easements allow landowners to permanently protect lands that are significant because of their value as wildlife habitat, such as wetlands, forests, riparian areas, or prairies. They can be used to preserve open space, including farmland, scenic vistas, and recreational corridors. They also allow landowners to utilize limited development of a portion of land while preserving the natural or cultural resources on the same tract. Many easements have multiple benefits. A conservation easement on a riparian area, for instance, can protect wildlife habitat, enhance aesthetic and economic values of surrounding lands, provide for recreational activities, and improve flood control and water quality. Each conservation easement is unique to the site and its owner's personal wishes. For example, a farmer might remove the right to pave over or build upon fertile fields; some owners might welcome birdwatchers, while others might value complete privacy. Public access is not required in a conservation easement; the fortunate steward of a rare wildlife habitat might restrict development of any kind.

How do conservation easements relate to property rights?

Every landowner is the holder of certain rights related to the use of land and its resources. Historically some of these rights, such as mineral and timber rights, have been used, taxed, or transferred separately from outright ownership. Road and utility easements also are examples of modifications of the rights of exclusive ownership. A conservation easement arises out of this principle of separating and modifying land ownership rights.

A conservation easement is created by a landowner (the "grantor") who desires to transfer certain rights to a conservation organization (the "grantee"), under an agreement that prohibits the grantee's exercise of those rights. Working cooperatively, the landowner and the grantee identify appropriate uses for the land and detail activities that should be prohibited. For example, a landowner may transfer the right to use a property for residential development to the grantee. The grantee organization then holds that right, but is prohibited by the terms of the conservation easement from ever using it. Thus, it is assured that no future owner will have the right to use the property for residential development. Conservation easements are perpetual, restricting future land uses regardless of who may own the land in the future. Land subject to a conservation easement is still privately owned and managed. All rights of ownership that have not been transferred to the grantee may be exercised by the current owner. For example, a landowner may transfer the rights to develop a property for commercial, industrial, or multi-residential purposes while retaining rights to use the land for farming or for the owner's personal residence.

Who can grant a conservation easement?

Any owner of qualified property may grant a conservation easement. In the case of multiple ownership, all owners must consent to granting an easement.

Does a conservation easement grant public access to land?

The protecting property owner has the choice of whether access is permitted on the land. A landowner may allow limited access for educational or scientific purposes, but public access is not required by the Eleven Point River Conservancy as a condition of accepting a conservation easement. However, EPRC is obligated to arrange an annual visit to the site by its representatives to assure compliance with the terms of the conservation easement.

Does a conservation easement restrict a landowner's ability to sell, develop, or bequeath land in the future?

Land protected by a conservation easement may be sold, bequeathed or otherwise transferred at any time. An easement may apply only to certain portions of property, preserving open or wooded areas, for example, while permitting development of the remainder. Transfer of ownership will not affect the integrity or enforceability of the easement. Restrictions defined in the recorded conservation easement run with the title to the property forever, providing landowners an effective means of perpetuating their caring stewardship.

How are conservation easements enforced?

At the time a conservation easement is created, plant and wildlife inventories are added to photographic information to provide a baseline for future monitoring. Annual visits are arranged by the Eleven Point River Conservancy in order to determine that the terms and conditions of the conservation easement are being honored. If a violation is identified, the landowner is promptly notified, in accordance with procedures outlined in the conservation easement, and steps must be taken to repair any damage. The easement also defines the process to be followed to resolve disputes regarding an alleged violation of the easement. If necessary, EPRC will take legal action to fulfill its conservation easement obligations. A Land Protection Fund has been created to cover future expenses of monitoring, enforcing compliance with easement restrictions, and underwriting legal defense of the easement protections.