What is a conservation easement?

Adams County easement.fwA conservation easement is a legal agreement that restricts the type and amount of development, or certain management practices that may take place on a property. Each easement’s restrictions are tailored to the particular property and to the interests of the individual owner.

To understand the easement concept, think of owning land as holding a bundle of rights. A landowner may sell or give away the whole bundle, or just one or two of those rights. These may include, for example, the right to construct buildings, to subdivide the land, to restrict access, or to harvest timber. To give away certain rights while retaining others, a property owner grants an easement to an appropriate third party.

The specific rights a property owner forgoes when granting a conservation easement are spelled out in the easement document. The owner and the prospective easement holder, called a land trust, identify the rights and restrictions on use that are necessary to protect the property. What can and cannot be done to the property is defined. The owner then conveys the right to enforce those restrictions to an easement holder, such as a public agency or a land trust.