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What is a conservation easement?

Provided by Mossy Oak Properties

A conservation easement is placed on a property to protect resources associated with it. It is a legally binding agreement between a landowner and a qualified government agency that prohibits certain uses or development of the land. Essentially, a conservation easement protects the land for future generations.

Whether it's to protect endangered wildlife or limit future residential and/or commercial developments, conservation easements are becoming more popular due to their tax benefits. Interested landowners are encouraged to enlist the help of reputable land specialists or real estate attorneys versed in conservation easements when deciding if this method is a practical one.

"I usually tell my buyers that a conservation easement is one of the best ways to reduce the carrying cost of a property," said Terrell Brazell, a land specialist at Mossy Oak Properties Coastal Land and Real Estate in St Mary's, Georgia. "There are several different types of easements, and your long- and short-term goals could influence which type you should enroll in."

Impact on landowners
Placing a conservation easement on a property can have wide ranging impacts that owners will want to be fully aware of. While a conservation easement can be effective in maintaining the quality of water on farm land or preserving migration routes of wildlife, it can reduce the value of the land on the open market. As certain activities such as a timber harvest can be limited via the conservation easement, the value of the land can drop. However, conservation easements will often enable a landowner (or his or her heirs) to qualify for certain tax benefits in the event of a sale or their death.

As it can be tough to decide whether to put a conservation easement on land, it's important owners fully understand every aspect of a contract. Placing an easement on a property can be a great way to preserve land, but owners enter themselves into an agreement they will have to comply with, otherwise they could be subject to fees. The best advice: Find trusted land professionals who are educated when it comes to conservation easements. 

"You need to make sure you understand all of the conditions and terms," said Brazell. "Also, be aware of any penalties for breaking a covenant. Some states like Georgia offer short term covenants that last 10 years, with options to renew, while other conservation easements permanently restrict the use. It is always best to seek the advice of someone who has a good working knowledge of conservation easements and the restrictions before entering into one."

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