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Help for Owners of Conserved Land

Over 2,000 people, organizations, and towns own and manage conserved land in Vermont. We’re here to answer your questions, offer guidance, and connect you to resources. This page has some answers to common questions. If you’d like to go deeper, please reach out.

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Answers to common questions about owning land conserved with the Vermont Land Trust

We conserve land through a legal document called a conservation easement. Conservation easements are tied to the land, whether the land is sold or stays in the family. When you put a conservation easement on your land, you still own and manage the land and pay the property taxes.

The easement explains what is and isn’t allowed to happen on that land. Generally, our easements limit development and subdivision and protect the land for farming, forestry, nature, and/or recreation.

We reach out to landowners every year by email, phone, or letter. We also visit all conserved land periodically to ensure that the easement is being upheld and to document any significant changes made to the land. These call and visits are a great time to ask us questions you might have about land management. If we don’t know the answer, we can direct you to someone who will.

Contact us if you are planning to do something new with your land, if you have questions about your conservation easement, if you are planning to sell your land, or if you would like some advice about land management. Please note that some changes to your land may require our approval.

If your conservation easement names another coholder, such as the Vermont Housing & Conservation Board, you do not have to call them about your easement. VLT is still your main point of contact.

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  • Building any structure
  • Converting a single-family home to a multi-family home
  • Any changes to designated historic buildings
  • Building or siting driveways, utilities, septic systems, or water supplies
  • Building or enlarging ponds and reservoirs
  • Granting a right-of-way or an easement on your land
  • Changing a boundary
  • If your easement has a section titled ‘Right of First Refusal’ or ‘Option to Purchase at Agricultural Value’ then we need to approve any changes in ownership of the land or corporation, partnership, or trust that owns the land. (Also, please notify us if you are selling land excluded from the easement if that land shares a boundary with the conserved part of the land.)
  • Any lease over 15 years, including renewals or extensions
  • Harvesting timber (except for your own firewood)
  • Creating or changing a forest management plan
  • Converting woodland to farmland
  • Starting a new business on conserved land that is not farming or forestry (examples include creating a wedding venue, a yoga studio, or a daycare)
  • A conflict with, or changes to, public access described in your easement
  • Any land management activity or new use of land that is in a special area listed in your easement (e.g., ecological protection area, vegetated buffer areas along water bodies, archaeological areas)
  • A request for us to waive rights listed in your easement, such as a ‘Right of First Refusal’ or an ‘Option to Purchase at Agricultural Value’

This list isn’t exhaustive, so please call us about any changes you are unsure of.

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Most of our conservation easements don’t require landowners to allow public access to their land.  However, some of our easements do. If you have any questions about your easement and what is or isn’t allowed, please contact us.

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While we encourage everyone with conserved woods to create a forest management plan, it isn’t required unless you plan to sell wood— including lumber, chips, firewood, or saw logs—from the trees you harvest. In this case, you or your forester must send us the forest management plan and receive our written approval before you begin a commercial timber harvest.

Depending on what you intend to do, your forest management plan may be short or detailed. A consulting forester can help you prepare a plan to meet your needs. Please reach out to us if you have any questions or would like help finding a consulting forester.

Note that owners of woodlands enrolled in the state’s Current Use tax program must update their forest management plans every 10 years. When your plan is updated, please send the new version to us.

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Please contact us if you are thinking about starting a new business on conserved land. Any new business venture on conserved land that does not meet the state definition of farming or forestry will need our approval. Our goal is to make sure the business does not detract from the original reasons the land was conserved.

Some in-home businesses we have approved include bed and breakfasts, daycares, bakeries, accounting services, and tool sales. Some out-of-home businesses we have allowed on conserved land include farm equipment repairs, agritourism, and storage in existing buildings.

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While most easements don’t allow for residential construction, some do permit a new house, camp, or farm-labor housing. If your easement does allow for this, and you plan to build, please contact us early in the process to ensure your plans are in line with the conservation easement. You may need written approval from us before beginning construction.

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If you plan to sell your conserved land, please be sure to let your realtor know about the conservation easement early in the process. We also ask that you share the contact info for your VLT representative with your realtor. We are here to answer questions from realtors and prospective buyers about what they can and cannot do on the land.

When you have a buyer, please let us know—even if the buyer is family—so that we can introduce ourselves.

If your conservation easement gives the Vermont Land Trust a ‘Right of First Refusal’ or has a farm affordability clause (in your easement, this will be found under the heading ‘Option to Purchase at Agricultural Value’), that means we have reserved a right to buy your land when it comes up for sale. Please contact us about these rights if you are thinking about selling or giving away your land.

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One of the reasons we stay in close contact with landowners is to prevent any problems before they arise. We are happy to report that violations of our conservation easements are rare and often minor.

Land conservation is a partnership. We strive to find voluntary, cooperative solutions when there are issues with easement compliance. Our staff will take the time needed to work with you to address any problems. If the violation was committed by someone else, such as a neighbor, we can refer you to experts that can help you resolve the violation.

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The Use Value Appraisal program, also known as Current Use, is run by the State of Vermont. It is not connected to the Vermont Land Trust or to our conservation easements. Property taxes on farmland and forestland enrolled in Current Use are based on how the land is used, instead of by its development potential. This can lead to reduced property taxes. The goal of the program is to keep Vermont’s land in agricultural and forestry production and to tax undeveloped land fairly.

VLT-conserved forestland enrolled in Current Use must have a forest management plan that has been approved by both the county forester and a VLT forester. For more details on Current Use, contact your Vermont County Forester

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