The Northwest Arkansas Land Trust works with each individual landowner to establish a conservation plan that works best for them. The two most common options are fee-simple and conservation easements.
Fee-simple is the outright purchase or donation of the land. The landowner sells or donates all rights, title and interest in the property to the land trust, and the land trust takes responsibility for the management of the property and the protection of its conservation values in perpetuity.
Landowners who live on the property may choose to exclude their home and surrounding property as a “residential envelope” from the donation. Another option is to establish a “reserved life estate” when the landowner will continue living on and using their donated land for their lifetime. A landowner may also choose to donate their land through a trust agreement with the land trust named as beneficiary.
A conservation easement is a legal agreement between the landowner and the land trust that limits certain mutually agreed upon uses of the land in order to protect its conservation values. An easement may apply to all or a portion of the property and need not require public access. The landowner continues to own and use their land and they can sell it or pass it on to their heirs. The terms of the conservation easement stay with the deed and are upheld by the land trust in perpetuity.
Easements can be purchased, but they are usually donated. If the donation benefits the public by permanently protecting important conservation resources and meets other federal tax code requirements, it can qualify as a tax-deductible charitable donation. The amount of the donation, generally speaking, is the difference between the land’s value with the easement and its value without the easement.
Perhaps most importantly, a conservation easement can be essential for passing land on to the next generation. By removing the land’s development potential, the easement lowers its market value, which in turn lowers estate tax. Whether the easement is donated during life or by will, it can make a critical difference in the heirs’ ability to keep the land intact.
The land trust is responsible for enforcing the terms of every easement it holds. Therefore, the land trust coordinates with current landowners and monitors the property on a regular basis (typically once a year or more) to determine that the terms of the conservation easement are being upheld.
Other Conservation Options
Planned Gifts, Bargain Sales, Rights of First Refusal, Long-Term Management Agreements, Mutual Covenants and Like-Kind Exchanges are examples of other conservation options that may be available.
Because land trusts are private organizations, they can be more flexible and creative than public or government agencies, negotiating with landowners to find the best solution to protect their land.
If you are interested in conserving your land, please contact Terri Lane at firstname.lastname@example.org or 479-966-4666.