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Lake County, Ohio - Soil & Water Conservation District

Easements

    Conservation Easements

    Conservation Easements are a terrific way for landowners to permanently protect the natural resources on their land and in the region. Conservation Easements, which can be donated or sold, are permanent restrictions placed on a piece of land that limits some of the uses on the land; those that could impact the natural resources, while allowing the property to remain in private ownership. 

     When conservation easements are donated, they can provide for significant tax deductions, as well as, property tax relief. (Everybody’s tax situation is unique, consult your tax advisor)

     Conservation easements are entirely voluntary and it is the landowner that decides how restrictive the easement is. Conservation easements, whether held by a government agency or a private land trust, do not take the property off the tax roles or provide for public access or trespass on the property. 

     Below is a summary of how a conservation easement works and a brief case history. For futher information on placing a conservation easement on your land or for additional information, contact the Lake SWCD at 440-350-2730.

     Objective: A conservation easement is a restriction placed on a piece of property to protect the resources – natural or manmade – associated with the parcel.

     Who Enacts it: The individual landowner, in conjunction with a government agency, such as the Lake SWCD, or a private conservation organization, such as a land trust, VOLUNTARILY sells or donates an easement on the parcel of land and signs a legally binding agreement that prohibits certain types or amounts of development (residential and / or commercial) from taking place, while retaining title to the property.

     How it works: This land protection technique is based upon the legal definition of land ownership, which bestows a “bundle of rights” on the property owner. By placing a “easement” on their land, the owner agrees to give up some of those rights. Examples of typical easements are utility easements, access easements and mining easements. When granting a conservation easement, the landowner typically gives up the rights that if executed, would damage the conservation values of the property. Those rights typically include the rights to the timber, development, new construction, and otherwise altering the property.

     Conservation Easements on some parts of a property and not others and may allow the owner to retain certain rights with respect to the property, such as the continuation of farming, cutting of firewood, and even building an additional house. The owner retains all other property rights, such as the right to sell or lease the property, and the right to privacy-though they are typically written to grant the organization that holds the conservation easement the right to enter the property to monitor its management obligations.

     In most cases, donating a conservation easement make the landowner eligible for certain tax benefits. These include a potential reduction in federal income tax (IRS 170(h) ) and estate tax. Ohio law (ORC 5713.01) requires the county auditors to take into account the diminution in value as a result of the imposition of the conservation easement (ORC 5713.04), often resulting in a lower property tax assessment.

     Advantages: An easement allows a landowner to protect valuable resources on the property while retaining ownership of the land. Although relinquishing some of the development rights, the owner generally reserves all other rights to the land.

     Disadvantages: To receive tax benefits, the law requires the landowners donate the easement in perpetuity. This means that landowners have no legal grounds for recovering the rights granted by the conservation easement if they later change their minds. Donors release the opportunity to develop the land and reap any economic benefit from that action. For the easement holder, there are supervisory expenses to fulfill holder responsibilities. 

     A Case History: In 1980, Lake County Ohio, resident James P. Storer deeded a conservation easement on 58 acres of wooded land n the south side of the Grand River to the Ohio Chapter of the Nature Conservancy. His easement limits land use on the property to minimal trail maintenance, cutting of firewood, and removal of dead trees. The terms forbid use of the land for construction, hunting, fishing or camping.

     Mr. Storer said he wished to protect the hardwood stand from lumbering or development. About 40 of the 50 acres are covered with mature stands of second-growth red oak, white oak, and beech that are 75-100 years old; white maple hickory, tulip and sassafras are among other tree species on the parcel.

     This plot may be one of oldest and healthiest woodlots left in the Lake County area. It is a cornerstone in a larger Grand River Preservation Project with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, the Lake County Soil and Water Conservation District, Lake Metroparks, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and the Ohio Chapter of The Nature Conservancy.

     When the easement was complete, Mr. Storer took a significant deduction for the donation on his tax return for the year. He added that he hoped that his experience will encourage others to grant conservation easements on their lands.   (Case History Source: For further information about this case history, contact Scott Davis, Assoc. Dir., The Nature Conservancy, Ohio Chapter, 6375 Riverside Drive, Ste. 50, Columbus, Ohio 43017; Tel. 614-717-2770. 

     For information about a Conservation Easement on your land, contact the Lake SWCD at 440-350-2730.