Conserving Your Land

Conservation Easements – Summary

NRLT works with Northern Rivers landowners who love their land and want to see it conserved. We normally operate by accepting donated conservation easements. In special cases, we may work through partnerships with other land trusts to reimburse landowners for some or all of their easement value. Conservation easements are legal tools through which land trusts can help landowners to voluntarily limit development while keeping the land open for forestry, farming and recreation. The property remains in private ownership with the peace of mind that it is protected now and forever

Tax Benefits

Donations of easements currently qualify as charitable contributions for federal income and estate tax purposes. A landowner wishing to take this deduction must have the easement valued by a certified appraiser. Donated easements do not necessarily reduce property taxes, particularly for lands enrolled in Vermont’s current use appraisal property tax program

Defining Your Land Protection Goals

The first step in working with NRLT to protect your land is to meet with our Lands Committee to define your goals for your property and incorporate those goals in a written easement document (sometimes referred to as a grant of development rights). Once we agree on easement terms, and both parties have signed the document, the easement will be entered in your town’s Land Records and will govern activities that may occur on that property in the future.

Stewardship Endowment Fund 

We take very seriously our obligation to protect each property on which we hold an easement, and this obligation may involve costs at some future date. Land trust standards require that easement holders like NRLT establish a substantial endowment fund to cover these costs. NRLT’s current policy is to set aside $5,000 in its Stewardship Endowment Fund for each new easement, in order to cover monitoring and enforcement costs. Easement donors are invited to contribute to this fund in recognition that NRLT is assuming a perpetual responsibility to preserve their land.

Photo © NRLT 2009

Standard Terms Of NRLT Conservation Easements

Some typical components of an easement are listed below. NRLT approaches each project flexibly and will do our best to accommodate the needs and goals of each landowner. As a public non-profit, NRLT’s purpose is to promote public benefits, so our Lands Committee will encourage protection of special publicly-valued resources through your easement.

1. Fragmentation of a property under different owners is normally excluded, although an easement may permit subdivision of one or a small number of specific parcels.

2. Building of new structures is normally prohibited, unless they support agricultural or forestry purposes of the property or unless special exceptions are written into the easement.  Common exceptions include:

a. Homesteads of specific acreage where an owner may remodel an existing house or add certain types of ancillary structures.
b. Specified number of additional single-family residences at defined locations on the property.
c. Normally there is no limit on structures associated with agriculture or forestry.

3. Where holdings include woodland, easements provide that any harvesting of timber must follow a state-approved forest management plan similar to the plan required for Vermont’s use value appraisal property tax program.

4. If NRLT and the landowner agree that it is desirable to maintain open spaces, such as hayfields, the easement authorizes NRLT to arrange for haying or bushhogging the land if owners fail to do so.

5. The landowner is committed to grant NRLT reasonable access for the purpose of monitoring adherence to the easement. 

6. Unless an easement stipulates public access for recreation, it is up to the current landowner to decide whether or not to grant such access.

VLT Guidelines

NLRT often follows guidelines issued by the Vermont Land Trust, the largest and most-experienced land trust in the state. See HERE for links to templates and background materials on legal provisions of conservation easements.

Photo © NRLT 2009