What is a conservation easement?
A conservation easement is a voluntary agreement that allows a landowner to limit the type or amount of development on his or her property while retaining private ownership of the land. The easement is a legally binding document signed by the landowner and the Land Trust. The Land Trust accepts and becomes the holder of the easement with the understanding that it must enforce the terms of the easement in perpetuity. After the easement is signed, it is recorded with the county auditor and applies to all future owners of the land. The conservation easement “runs” with the land, not the owner.
Another way to visualize a conservation easement is to think of land ownership as holding a hand of cards. Each card represents the landowner’s right to do something with the property, such as the right to subdivide, build a house, harvest timber, farm, lease the property, pass it on to heirs, or allow hunting or public access. The landowner may choose to relinquish some of those rights—in effect, discarding some of the cards in the hand–through a conservation easement. Those development rights are then extinguished.