What is a Conservation Easement?

Often land can best be protected if the owners are motivated to pursue economically viable alternatives to subdividing and development.

A conservation easement is a voluntary, incentive-based agreement between a landowner and a non-profit land trust or a government agency that restricts use of property to protect its “conservation values”.

Great video that simply explains conservation easements:

Placing a conservation easement on private land:

  • Protects agreed upon conservation resources such as the utility of the land for productive agriculture, unique wildlife habitat, scenic view and historic structures. It may apply to all or part of a property.
  • Creates a permanent deed restriction that sets limits on subdivision and development. May allow a limited number of lots to be subdivided and sold.
  • On ranch and farm land, allows continued agricultural use and development consistent with “sound, generally accepted agricultural practices.”
  • Typically allow a limited number of homes to be built for the landowner’s family and employees.
  • Keeps the land in private ownership. If you sell the property, the easement stays with the land and is binding on the new owner.
  • Leaves your land, water and mineral rights intact, with certain restrictions on surface mining.
  • Can result in significant income and inheritance tax savings, or may be purchased with grant funds raised by a land trust.
  • Does not grant any rights of access to the general public.
  • Gives legal rights to the land trust to monitor and enforce the terms of the easement, but does not cause any new government regulation of the land.

Granting a conservation easement creates a permanent deed restriction. The easement may be held by a qualifying non-profit organization (land trust or conservancy) or by a government agency.

The law allows for a conservation easement to be terminated in court only if the reasons for creating the easement in the first place no longer can be served, but this has rarely happened in the thirty-year history of modern conservation easements. A conservation easement does not override any existing public or private easements on the property.

Hibbits Ranch marigoldsThe Land Trust for Santa Barbara County works with landowners to craft land preservation strategies that benefit both the property owner and the public interest. All conservation easements, to qualify the landowner for tax or grant incentives, must have certain provisions required by federal and state law. Download our Model Conservation Easement publication for more information.

Our staff is available, at no charge, to meet with eligible landowners and their advisors to discuss conservation options. Call 966-4520 or email us.