Conservation easements have successfully protected hundreds of thousands of acres of productive forestland in Vermont and millions of acres of open space in the United States. They can minimize (and even permanently halt) the subdivision and fragmentation of forest and farmland and enhance the quality of life for landowners and adjoining property owners. Furthermore, because there is flexibility when drafting a conservation easement, specific conservation values – from forestry to agriculture to wildlands protection – can be incorporated as goals of the easement.
A conservation easement is a voluntary agreement between a landowner and a land trust or government agency that limits the type or amount of development on one or more parcels of land. The easement is drafted specifically for the property in question, and identifies both the restrictions placed on the conserved property as well as the activities that are allowed. Landowners continue to own, manage, and pay taxes on the land and can sell their land; however, the conservation easement remains on the property permanently (a temporary easement, that expires after a fixed number of years, is also an option but this approach is very uncommon in Vermont).
Common characteristics of a conservation easement include:
- Land protected for future generations. Specifically, easements can help protect and preserve working or wild forests, farms, wildlife habitat, riparian buffers, recreational access, and a variety of other beneficial uses.
- Property ownership retained. The landowner typically retains ownership of the property, but by recording the easement in the town’s land records and through periodic review, the easement holder ensures that a property has not been subdivided or developed except as provided in the easement, and that the property is being managed in accordance with the terms of the easement.
- Multiple uses of the land continue. The landowner will usually be allowed, and is often encouraged, to use the land for farming, forestry, recreation, or education purposes, as provided by the terms of the easement.
- Agreement includes clear parameters. The process of creating the document provides a level of flexibility and specificity that other strategies might lack, and ensures that the landowner’s goals are met.
- The current owner retains most property rights. Again, these rights are defined by the easement itself, but may include things like agriculture, woodland management and sugaring operations, construction of barns and farm structures, recreation trails, the construction of seasonal camps, and if specified in the easement itself or management plan, the potential to allow a predetermined number of subdivided lots.
- Forest Fragmentation
- Productive Farms
- Working Lands
- Wildlife Corridor Protection
- Wildlife Habitat and Natural Areas
Related Case Studies
- Conservation Easement Case Study: Landowner, Alan Calfee
- Conservation Easement Case Study: Landowner, Putnam Blodgett
“Conservation Easements,” Community Strategies for Vermont’s Forests and Wildlife: A Guide for Local Action. Chapter 8, p. 25.
Please Note: Language used in this summary was adapted from Community Strategies for Vermont’s Forests and Wildlife: A Guide for Local Action, Chapter 8.