A conservation easement is an effective land preservation tool used to conserve natural areas and open space on private lands. The protection of natural areas is becoming increasingly important, especially in areas such as Clermont County, where there has been a steady expansion of urban growth and development.
A conservation easement is a voluntary agreement made by a landowner to place deed restrictions over property (or a section of property), to preserve land in its current state. The land typically has some conservation value, such as farmland, forested area, open space, wildlife habitat, streams or wetlands. Easements are drafted in various ways; however, the restrictions generally prohibit future development of the land.
Landowners may choose to place an easement on their property for various reasons – many recognize the long-term environmental benefits. Conservation easements protect natural areas and open spaces, which, in turn, provide indirect environmental “services,” such as storm water management. For example, a conservation easement that protects forested land next to a stream or lake would provide a natural, protective barrier (or “buffer”) to absorb rain water/snow melt and filter out harmful pollutants. When properly designed, forested stream buffers are highly effective methods for reducing storm water runoff and improving water quality, and are more efficient and cost-effective than the more conventional, engineered methods used to reduce storm water impacts.
In addition to the environmental benefits, conservation easements also provide financial incentives for the individual landowner. Easements can be sold or donated, temporary or permanent; however, most easements are donated to local land trusts or government agencies in perpetuity. Landowners retain ownership of the property and are provided financial compensation for the loss of development rights. Financial compensation is based on the easement value, which is determined by the difference between property appraisals done before and after the deed restrictions. Landowners who donate easements may be eligible for income tax deductions and estate tax deductions. Because the deed restrictions lower the property’s market value, conservation easements are ideal for landowners looking to reduce the estate tax burden for those who may inherit the property in the future.
In Southwest Ohio, landowners who are interested in placing a conservation easement on their property should contact the Cardinal Land Conservancy, a local land trust for a seven-county area, including Clermont County. Cardinal representatives will be happy to conduct a site visit and answer any questions you might have.