Glossary of Terms
A land trust is an independent, nonprofit organization that includes as all or part of its mission the active conservation of land and water resources. Land trusts accomplish this through a variety of methods, frequently through conservation easement acquisition. Land trusts work closely with landowners who are interested in either donating or selling their land or the development rights on a property under mutually agreeable terms designed to protect the property's important land and water resources in perpetuity.
Land trusts often work cooperatively with government agencies to acquire or manage land, research open space needs and priorities, or assist in the development of resource protection plans within a given community. Many land trusts work closely within the communities or regions in which they operate rather than expanding their scope to a national level. They focus on properties that may not be large enough to attract the attention of national conservation organizations, but which are critical to the preservation of natural resources at the community level.
Most land trusts nationwide participate in the 1,500 member Land Trust Alliance, an organization that defines and administers stringent standards and practices among land trusts to ensure that land protection projects are conducted in a fully professional manner. Because land trusts are private organizations, they are able to act more quickly and be more flexible than can public agencies when opportunities arise to save environmentally significant land at risk for development. Additionally, because of the nonprofit status of land trusts, they are able to provide donors with a variety of tax benefits when donating land, conservation easements, or funds to assist with the acquisition of land for preservation.
A conservation easement is a legal agreement between a landowner and a land trust or government agency that permanently limits certain uses of the land in order to protect its conservation values. It allows landowners to continue to own and use their land, and to sell it, lease it or pass it on to heirs.
Conservation easements are very popular and millions of acres have been protected in the country using this conservation tool. Landowners have found that conservation easements are flexible, and yet provide a permanent guarantee that the land won't ever be developed.
Conservation easements are used to protect all types of land, including coastlines; farms and ranchlands; historical or cultural landscapes; scenic views; streams and rivers; trail corridors; wetlands; wildlife areas; and working forests.
People place conservation easements on their property because they love the land and water resources they encompass, and want to protect their land while maintaining their private ownership of the property. Granting an easement to a conservation organization that qualifies under the Internal Revenue Code as a "public charity" - like the Indian River Land Trust - can yield income and estate tax savings. Moreover, land trusts have the expertise and experience to work with landowners and ensure that the land will remain permanently protected.
When you enter into a conservation easement agreement with a land trust, you give up some of the rights associated with the land. For example, you might give up the right to build additional residences, while retaining the right to raise cattle. Future owners also will be bound by the easement's terms.
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 real estate 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 restrictions that the easement document spells out. Therefore, the land trust monitors the property on a regular basis -- typically once a year - to determine that the property remains in the condition prescribed by the easement document. The land trust maintains written records of these monitoring visits, which also give the landowner a chance to keep in touch with the land trust.
(1) A linear open space established along either a natural corridor, such as a riverfront, stream valley or ridgeline, or over land along a railroad right-of-way converted to recreational use, a canal, a scenic road or other route; (2) any natural or landscaped course for pedestrian or bicycle passage; (3) an open space connector linking parks, natural reserves, cultural features or historic sites with each other and with populated areas; (4) locally, certain strip or linear parks designated as parkway or greenbelt.