Little Traverse Conservancy
Protecting Your Land
Conservation easements are individually tailored to the goals of each landowner. If you want to own your land and manage it as a working farm or own your land and prevent future development, this could be a great option. Another option that allows you to continue living on your land is through a life estate donation. With this option, you will be able to transfer ownership of the real estate to the Conservancy while maintaining the right to use the property and buildings until the end of your and your spouse’s life.
The easement is signed by the landowner, who is the easement donor, and the Conservancy, who is the party receiving the easement. The Conservancy accepts the easement by understanding that it must enforce the terms of the easement in perpetuity. After the easement is signed, it is recorded with the County Register of Deeds and applies to all future owners of the land. The Conservancy will monitor the easement annually.
The Stewardship Guide for Conservation Easement Landowners is a booklet describing the Conservancy’s stewardship program in more detail with information about property taxes and conservation easements.
A Conservation Easement Stewardship newsletter is sent to all easement landowners annually. This newsletter provides necessary information about easement stewardship and updates on monitoring activities, tax issues, and other topics.
Many landowners desire to manage or restore their land actively. Sometimes protecting the land against development with a conservation easement is just the first step to protecting the natural diversity and beauty.
If you are interested in managing your forest (and your easement permits it), there are many sources of information and several professional foresters at your disposal.
Frequently Asked Questions
When considering how to protect your land, here are some of the common questions that arise among landowners.
A land trust is a non-profit organization directly involved in the permanent protection of land and its resources for the public benefit. A trust may operate on a local, state, regional, or national level. A land trust is a private alternative to land preservation by public agencies or park districts.
The land trust gives local citizens concerned about open space issues to preserve areas critical to the community. It also offers options to landowners interested in protecting their land. Land trusts are not “trusts” in the legal sense.
Some refer to themselves by other names such as conservancies, foundations, or associations. Land trusts accept properties, buy land, or help landowners establish legal restrictions that limit harmful use and development. Land trusts may own and manage properties, monitor the limits they have allowed set for landowners, and work in partnership with other agencies.
Little Traverse Conservancy is unique in the land trust world because it also offers free environmental education programs all year round.
As community organizations, land trusts are responsive to the land and people’s unique needs in their regions. As private organizations, land trusts can offer quick response, flexibility, and confidentiality in land transactions.
We are more than 4,000 people like you who want to protect Northern Michigan’s unique places and characteristics. Together, with professional staff and hundreds of volunteers working on the ground, we are one of the oldest and most established land trusts in the Midwest. We comprise a broad coalition of northern Michigan residents, resorters, landowners, conservationists, and developers.
Our supporters are bound together by a common interest in establishing a healthy balance between development and the need to protect northern Michigan’s scenic beauty and natural integrity.
One way to visualize a conservation easement is to think of owning land as holding a bundle of sticks. Each one of these sticks represents the landowner’s right to do something with their property. The right to build a house, extract minerals, lease the property, pass it on to heirs, or allow hunting are all rights that the landowner has.
A landowner may give up certain development rights or sticks from the bundle associated with their property through a conservation easement document. The easement will carry with the property for perpetuity, regardless of future ownership.
People grant conservation easements because they want to protect their property from future unwanted development, but they also wish to retain their land ownership. A conservation easement ensures that the property will be protected forever, regardless of who owns the land in the future. An additional benefit of granting a conservation easement is that the donation of an easement may provide significant tax and estate planning advantages to the donor.
The activities allowed by a conservation easement depend on the landowner’s wishes and property characteristics. In some instances, no further development is permitted on the land. In other circumstances, some additional development is allowed (such as for agricultural use), but the amount and type of development are less than would otherwise be entitled.
Every easement is unique and tailored to a particular landowner’s goals for their land.
Conservation easements may be designed to cover all or only a portion of a property. Agricultural activities and timber management are two activities that are sometimes retained within the easement terms.
The landowner continues to own the property after executing a conservation easement. Therefore, the owner can sell, give, or lease the property as before. However, all future owners of the land must abide by the terms described in the conservation easement.
The public does not have access to a property protected by an easement unless the original landowner who grants the easement specifically allows it. Most easement donors do not allow public access to the property.
The landowner retains full rights to control and manage their property within the limits of the easement. The landowner continues to bear all costs and liabilities related to ownership and maintenance of the property. The Conservancy monitors the property annually to ensure compliance with the easement’s terms. Still, it has no other management responsibilities and exercises no direct control over other land activities.
Some easements only cover a portion of the landowner’s property. Again, it depends on the landowner’s wishes.
IRS regulations require that the property have “significant” conservation values. This includes forests, endangered species habitat, wetlands, beaches, scenic areas, and more. In those instances in which a landowner chooses to allow public access, IRS recognizes this as a public benefit.
The Conservancy also has its criteria for accepting easements. At the landowner’s invitation, the Conservancy staff will evaluate the property to determine whether it meets these criteria.
Ultimately, the Conservancy’s Board of Trustees decides which easements to accept.
Not every property is appropriate for a conservation easement. Some of the reasons why an easement would not be acceptable include:
- The property is too small or does not meet Conservancy land protection.
- The complicated nature of the property makes it too difficult to enforce the conservation terms.
- The property is part of a permit/mitigation scenario.
These issues will be thoroughly discussed with the Conservancy staff.