What is a Land Trust?
Land Trusts are private, not-for-profit entities committed to preserving land and historic places in perpetuity to protect their unique qualities and character. Although they vary greatly in scope and scale, all land trust share the common purpose of working cooperatively with landowners who wish to protect and conserve their land for its natural, recreation, scenic, historic, or productive value. Land trusts actively work to conserve land by undertaking or assisting with direct land transactions – primarily the purchase or acceptance of donations of land or conservation easements.
Land trusts offer private and flexible ways for landowners and communities to retain valued resources using a variety of tools that help landowners protect their land and help communities protect natural, historic, recreational and working properties essential to their community’s character. Easements are one important tool: for land, a “conservation easement” and for structures, “historic façade easement.”
What is a Conservation Easement (CE)? It is a voluntary and legally binding agreement between a land trust (or government agency) and a landowner whose remains in private ownership. The landowner may sell or transfer their property at any time and future owners are bound by the terms of the easement. As each property as well as the needs and desires of the owner are different, so each conservation easement will be specific to that property. In this way a conservation easement offers private landowners flexibility in protecting their land in perpetuity.
Federal Income Tax Incentives for donating a conservation easement have never been better. In 2006, Congress enacted one of the most powerful conservation measures in decades: it enhanced federal tax incentives for conservation easement donations and in 2015 they were made permanent. The permanent incentive represents vastly increased opportunities for middle-income landowners and their communities to protect special places through private means.
How does the permanent, enhanced tax incentive work? Owners of land with natural, agricultural or historic resources may now donate a conservation easement both to save the land they love forever and realize a significant federal tax savings. If a conservation easement is voluntarily donated to a land trust or government agency and if it benefits the public by permanently protecting important conservation resources (clearly described in the conservation easement agreement), it can qualify as a charitable tax deduction on the donor’s federal income tax return. It increases the charitable donation for CEs (and CEs only) from 30% to 50% of the donor’s income in the year of the donation and extends the carry-forward forward period to 15 years. The incentives for farmers are even more generous.