When the protection of Vermont’s best resources—farmland, large tracts of forestland, or places of importance to a community—is at stake, we often find funds to purchase a conservation easement.
A conservation easement is a legal agreement that limits development and subdivision and protects land for farming, forestry, nature, and/or recreation.
Landowners who sell an easement continue to own and pay taxes on the land. They can use the land in ways that sustain its resources. Conservation easements are tied to the land, whether the land is sold or remains in the family.
Conservation easements protect natural and agricultural resources. For instance, a farmland easement will require the sustainable management of erodible soils and may make sure the farm will be affordable to future farmers. If you are interested in selling a farm easement, please see our farm conservation page.
Most funding available for conservation is for working farms and high-quality farmland. Very large tracts of forestland are sometimes eligible for funding, as is land important to a community, such as a town forest or sledding hill. If you are interested in conserving land in your community, please see our community conservation page.
Generally we work with landowners who want to conserve 50 acres or more. Sometimes we will conserve smaller parcels with excellent resources or significance to a community.
Funding comes from federal and state sources, including the Vermont Housing & Conservation Board, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, and the federal Forest Legacy Program. We are also supported by private foundations, municipal conservation funds, and our many generous donors.
In general, a conservation easement does not require that a landowner allow the public to access the land. However, when public financing is used to buy an easement—and there is an important recreational feature on the land, such as a river—access to that feature may be required to receive funding.
Depending on how the money to purchase the easement is being raised, it can take one to two years to complete a conservation project. Farm conservation projects that require public funding often take two years.
The price of a conservation easement is determined by an independent appraisal that assesses 1) the value of the land before conservation and 2) the value of the land with restrictions. The difference between these two numbers is the value of the easement.
A conservation easement usually reduces a property’s value because it removes some landowner rights, such as the right to develop the land.
Vermont’s listers are asked to consider a conservation easement’s impact on the property’s value. In practice, however, many listers don’t adjust the assessment of conserved properties. Some landowners choose to grieve their assessment, especially if they have an appraisal which substantiates the value of their conserved property.
If land is already enrolled in Vermont’s Use Value Appraisal Program (known as Current Use) 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 are enrolled in this program and pay taxes at the use-value rate.
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.
Please contact one of our conservation staff members.
Contact one of our conservation staff members.