Conservation Easement Basics

The Central PA Conservancy participates in land protection by accepting donations of conservation easement in partnership with landowners. Land is “protected" when development and other uses that would undermine a property’s conservation values are permanently and legally restricted. The land trust or “qualified organization” is responsible for monitoring the terms of the easement in perpetuity. It is important to remember that, when donating a conservation easement, a landowner retains private ownership of the property and the ability to sell the property and pass it on to their heirs. Landowners continue to use the property subject to the restrictions that are agreed upon together in the conservation easement.  Also, conservation easements "run with the land,” meaning that they bind all future landowners. Finally, one common myth about conservation easements is that they must allow public access. This is not true. Public access is not a requirement for a conservation easement.

Conservation easement donation projects typically begin when a landowner approaches the CPC with a strong desire to protect the natural resource values that are found on his or her property for the long-term. Often, the landowner has a special connection to the land, the surrounding landscape, and the idea that these natural resources can remain healthy and untouched long after he or she is gone. The motivation to leave a legacy of conservation for family and future generations is commendable and the CPC exists to help landowners realize this goal and even benefit economically.

Each conservation easement project that the CPC takes on includes planning for and exercising stewardship of the easement property, including, annual communication with the landowner, an annual monitoring visit and report, legal action to prevent or enforce violations, and staff assistance with management plans and practices. A designated stewardship endowment fund has been established at CPC to support its ongoing responsibilities in this regard, ensuring that the legal protections stay effective in perpetuity and realize the landowner’s intent.

Before the CPC takes on a new easement donation project, it must first evaluate the site and project to determine that restricting use of the property to exclude certain activities, uses and disturbances serves the public interest and advances conservation objectives and its land protection program goals. Two forms must be completed (Project Selection Criteria Form and Site Evaluation Form) and the CPC Land Protection Committee and CPC Board of Directors must approve the project before it can move forward.  Once approved, CPC staff members work diligently with the landowner through a series of site visits and additional research to complete the baseline documentation report and conservation easement draft that all parties are in agreement on.

If you own land with important natural or historic resources, donating a conservation easement can be one of the smartest ways to conserve the land you love, while maintaining private property rights and possibly realizing significant federal tax benefits.