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Conserving Land

Answers to Common Questions

If you own farmland or woodland, you might wonder if conservation is right for you. How does it work? What are the considerations for you and your family? This page is a good place to start. If you want to learn more, reach out to your local Vermont Land Trust representative to talk through your personal situation. Contact us to begin

Conserving Land with the Vermont Land Trust

We conserve land through conservation easements. These are legal agreements that limit development and protect land for farming, forestry, nature, clean water, and/or recreation. For instance, a forestland easement might prevent subdivision and limit logging along streams.

A conservation easement is a deed that gets recorded in the local land records but does not transfer ownership of the land; landowners continue to own, manage, and pay taxes on the land. Conservation easements are permanent. Easements are tied to the land and apply to all future owners.

We conserve working farms, farmland, woodland, wildlife habitat, and natural places used by communities for education and recreation.

Generally, we work with landowners to conserve parcels that are hundreds of acres in size or larger. On occasion, we will conserve smaller parcels that are important to the community or have exceptional natural features.

Possibly. Some types of conservation easements may qualify for grant funding. If you sell a conservation easement, you will be paid for limiting the development rights on your land and/or agreeing to other conservation measures. Some landowners will sell an easement for less than its full value and then take a tax deduction for the rest.

The process of selling an easement can take several years, and funding is limited and often competitive.  Money to buy easements comes from federal and state sources, including the Vermont Housing & Conservation Board [link], the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service [link], and the federal Forest Legacy Program [link]. Other funding can come from private foundations, municipal conservation funds, and individual donors.

Working farms and high-quality farmland are the most likely to be awarded funding.  All types of farms are eligible, but only those most likely to stay in production are funded. This includes farms with good agricultural soil that are near markets or other conserved farms and that have good infrastructure and management practices. Very large tracts of forestland are also sometimes eligible, as is land important to a community, such as a town forest or sledding hill.

If we think that your property is a strong candidate for funding, we will guide you through the process. We will also recommend you consult an attorney and tax advisor before moving forward.

Over 700 individuals and families have chosen to donate conservation easements on their land. This generous act can take anywhere from six months to a couple of years.

In most cases, if you donate a conservation easement, you will have expenses, but you may also receive tax benefits. Expenses may include fees to your lawyer and/or appraiser, while others pertain to our current and future costs. For example, if you donate an easement, you will be asked to contribute towards 1) our staff costs and 2) our stewardship endowment fund. This fund is used to ensure easements will be honored for generations to come. Sometimes we can get funding to offset these costs.

Conservation easements may qualify for federal (and sometimes state) income tax deductions. If yours is eligible, you may deduct up to 50 percent of your adjusted gross income. If the value of the gift is not used up in the first year, the unused part may be carried forward for up to 15 years. Different rules apply for land owned for less than one year.

We strongly recommend working with a tax adviser to ensure that your donation follows IRS criteria.

The value of a conservation easement is decided through an independent appraisal. The appraiser establishes two values: the value of the property with and without an easement. The difference between these is the value of the easement.

For example: The Smith Farm has a market value of $500,000. However, with a conservation easement limiting development and subdivision, it is appraised at $300,000. The difference—$200,000—is the value of the conservation easement.

Sometimes. A conservation easement usually reduces a property’s value because it removes some landowner rights, such as the right to develop the land.

Vermont listers are required to consider the impact a conservation easement has on the land’s value. While there are cases where listers decide that conservation doesn’t reduce a property’s value, usually the assessed value is lowered. Some landowners have chosen to grieve their assessment, especially if they have an appraisal which shows the value of their conserved property.

If land is already enrolled in Vermont’s Current Use Program, then it is already being taxed as productive farm or forestland—usually at a rate that is lower than the municipal assessment. Many owners of conserved land stay enrolled in the program and continue to pay taxes at the “current use” rate.

No. Although we strongly support Vermont’s tradition of not posting land, unless a conservation easement says that the public has access to your land, allowing public use is up to you. If you sell a conservation easement, and there is an important recreational feature on the land, formal access to that feature may be required as a condition of grant funding.

An important part of our work is to check in on the land we have conserved to make sure that nothing is happening that violates the easement. We regularly visit properties, walk the land, speak with landowners, review aerial data, and follow up on any concerns. Violations are rare and most are minor, but when they do occur, we first try to work with the landowner and/or neighbors to address them.

When an easement is donated, we ask for a donation to our stewardship endowment, which is designed to fund this work for the long term.

Giving your land to the Vermont Land Trust is among the most generous legacies you can leave to future generations. Donating land provides an income tax deduction, avoids capital gains taxes, removes the property from your taxable estate, and supports conservation.

We accept some donations of property that have conservation value as well as smaller lots and homes that may be sold to fund future conservation. You may be able to donate your home and continue to live there.

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