Frequently Asked Questions

When considering how to protect your land, here are some of the common questions that arise among landowners. Please do not hesitate to contact our office to talk directly with one of our land protection staff: 231.347.0991.

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 the private alternative to land preservation by public agencies or park districts. The land trust gives local citizens concerned about open space issues a way to work together to preserve areas important to the community. It also offers options to landowners interested in protecting their own land.

Land trusts are not “trusts” in the legal sense. Some, in fact, refer to themselves by other names such as conservancies, foundations, or associations. Land trusts accept donations of properties, buy land, or help landowners establish legal restrictions that limit harmful use and development. Land trusts may own and manage properties, monitor the restrictions they have helped establish for land owners, and/or 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 special needs of the land and people in their regions. As private organizations, land trusts are able to offer quick response, flexibility, and confidentiality in land transactions.
No. We are more than 4,000 people like you who want to protect the special places and characteristics of northern Michigan. Together, with a 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 the scenic beauty and natural integrity of northern Michigan.

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, to extract minerals, to 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 document called a conservation easement. The easement will carry with the property for perpetuity, regardless of future ownership.

Conservation Easement Guidebook

People grant conservation easements because they want to protect their property from future unwanted development but they also wish to retain ownership of their land. 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 the characteristics of the property. In some instances, no further development is allowed on the land. In other circumstances, some additional development is allowed (such as for agricultural use) but the amount and type of development is less than would otherwise be allowed.

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 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, but it has no other management responsibilities and exercises no direct control over other activities on the land.
No, 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 own criteria for accepting easements. At the invitation of the landowner, 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:

1) the property is too small or does not meet Conservancy land protection;

2) the complicated nature of the property makes it too difficult to enforce the conservation terms; or

3) the property is part of a permit/mitigation scenario.

These issues will be thoroughly discussed with Conservancy staff.

photo above: Barney’s Lake Nature Preserve/Frank Solle