General Land Trust FAQs
What is a Land Trust?
A land trust is a nonprofit organization that, as all or part of its mission, actively works to conserve land by assisting willing landowners with conservation easements or other land conservation options.
Are land trusts government agencies?
No, they are nonprofit, independent, entrepreneurial organizations that work with landowners who are interested in protecting their land.
So, what are the advantages of working with a land trust?
Land trusts are very closely tied to the communities in which they operate. Since land trusts are nonprofit organizations, conservation easements, donations of land, or money, may qualify conservation easement donors for income or gift tax savings. Moreover, because they are private organizations, land trusts can be more flexible and creative than public agencies – and can act more quickly – in protecting land.
What does a land trust do?
Local and regional land trusts, such as the Katawba Valley Land Trust, organized as charitable organizations under federal tax laws, are directly involved in conserving land for its natural, recreational, scenic, historical and productive values. By accepting the donation of a conservation easement, or using other methods, land trusts help landowners protect their land by permanently limiting the type and scope of development that can take place on the land. In some instances, land trusts may assist with the purchase of conservation easements.
What has contributed to the growth in the number of land trusts?
People are tremendously concerned about the continual loss of open space in their own communities. They see subdivisions supplanting the open spaces where they once walked and hiked, and they want to know how they can gain the power to save the natural areas that make their communities unique. They turn to land trusts as the local entities that have been set up to conserve land, especially through conservation easements. Conservation easements represent an affordable means to protect land, rather than the often prohibitive method of buying it.
Why should I grant a conservation easement to a land trust?
Landowners execute a conservation easement because they love their land, and want to protect it from inappropriate development while keeping their private ownership of the property. Granting an easement to a conservation organization like the Katawba Valley Land Trust that qualifies under the Internal Revenue Code as a public charity, may yield federal and state income tax savings.
Why was the trust organized?
The Katawba Valley Land Trust can help to preserve natural diversity and heritage of the area through acquisition, easement, or other means. With the rapid growth occurring in the Catawba Valley, many people are becoming concerned about preserving the remaining natural areas, historic and archaeological resources, and scenic vistas. The trust is one way to protect and conserve our heritage through private action.
Who owns the land trust?
Everyone who becomes a member of the trust becomes a partner in the effort to preserve our natural resources. The trust is governed by a board of directors composed of citizens and landowners in the river valley. The directors set policy for the corporation, and are regularly elected from the membership.
Who may join the land trust?
Membership in the Katawba valley Land Trust is open to anyone interested in the future of the upper Catawba River valley and surrounding areas. With payment of dues, you automatically become a part of the trust’s conservation mission.
Why did we spell it “Katawba?”
The spelling of Catawba has seen many varioations throughout the history of the area. until about 1700, the Indians living along the river were generally called “Esaws.” After 1700, the name for the Catawbas was variously spelled Kadapu, Kadapaw, Kataba, Katawba, Katoba, Katawa, Kithuhwa, and Cuttanba. Later, the spelling commonly used today, Catawba, became standard usage. One of the generally accepted meanings of the word is “People of the River.” We have chosen the name “Katawba Valley Land Trust” to honor the heritage of the Catawba Indians and the beautiful river valley they have called home for centuries.
Are conservation easements popular?
They are very popular. In the 5 years between 2000 and 2005, the amount of land protected by land trusts using easements doubled to 6.2 million acres. Landowners have found that conservation easements can be flexible tools, and yet provide a permanent guarantee that the land won’t ever be developed. Conservation easements are used to protect all types of land, including coastlines; farm and ranchland; historical or cultural landscapes; scenic views; streams and rivers; trails; wetlands; wildlife areas; and working forests.
Why do people grant conservation easements?
People grant conservation easements because they want to protect their property from future unwanted development and damaging land uses, while retaining ownership of their land. By granting a conservation easement, a landowner can assure that the property will be protected forever, regardless of who owns it in the future. An additional benefit is that the donation of an easement may provide significant financial advantages.
How can a conservation easement be tailored to my needs and desires?
An easement restricts development to the degree that is necessary to protect the significant conservation values of that particular property. Sometimes this totally prohibits construction, and sometimes it doesn’t. Landowners and land trusts, working together, can write conservation easements that reflect both the landowner’s desires and the need to protect conservation values. Even the most restrictive easements typically permit landowners to continue such traditional uses of the land as farming and forestry.
What steps do I take to write a conservation easement?
First, contact a land trust in your community to become acquainted with the organization and the services they can provide. Explore with them the conservation values you want to protect on the land. Discuss with the land trust what you want to accomplish, and what development rights you may want to retain. For example, you may already have one home on your property and want to preserve the right to build another home. That is one provision that must be specifically written into an easement agreement. Always consult with other family members regarding an easement, and remember that you should consult with your own attorney or financial advisor regarding such a substantial decision.
How long does it take to establish a conservation easement?
The time required to design the conservation easement and put it in place will vary depending on the size of the property, its uses and proposed restrictions, and the complexity of ownership.
Who owns and manages easement protected land?
The landowner retains full rights to control and manage their property within the limits of the easement. The landowner continues to bear all costs and liabilities related to ownership and maintenance of the property. The organization that owns the easement will monitor the property to ensure compliance with the easement’s terms, but has no other management responsibilities and exercises no direct control over other activities on the land as long as the activities are in compliance with the terms of the conservation easement.
What activities are allowed on land protected by an easement?
The activities allowed depend on the landowner’s wishes and the terms of the easement. In some cases, no further development is allowed on the land. In others, some additional development is allowed, but the amount and type is restricted. Conservation easements may be designed to cover all or only a portion of a property and specific restrictions can vary for different parts of the property. Every easement is unique, tailored to each landowner’s goals and land characteristics.
How long does a conservation easement last?
Most easements “run with the land,” binding the original owner and all subsequent owners to the easement’s restrictions. Only gifts of perpetual easements can qualify for income and estate tax benefits. The easement is recorded at the county or town records office so that all future owners and lenders will learn about the restrictions when they obtain title reports.
What are a land trust’s responsibilities regarding conservation easements?
The land trust is responsible for enforcing the restrictions that the easement document spells out. Therefore, the land trust monitors the property on a regular basis — typically once a year – to determine that the property remains in the condition prescribed by the easement document. The land trust maintains written records of these monitoring visits, which also provide the landowner a chance to keep in touch with the land trust. Land trusts establish endowments to provide for long-term stewardship of the easements they hold.
How does a conservation easement differ from other types of easements?
Legally a conservation easement is similar to other easements, in that certain rights associated with a piece of property are held by someone other than the property owner. It is different in a major way: The rights conveyed by a conservation easement are negative in effect, not positive. For instance, with a road easement the landowner gives someone a positive right to cross a property. With a conservation easement, the landowner may forgo the right to subdivide the property or to clear-cut the forest. The grantee organization (the party holding the easement) does not gain the right to do the subdivision or clear-cut; rather, it holds those restrictions “in trust” and ensures that no one uses any of the rights that have been restricted by the grantor.
Are economically productive uses still allowed under a conservation easement?
Yes. If a piece of property can produce income for its owners and still retain its conservation values, it is more likely to be protected through time. As Janet Diehl and Thomas S. Barrett note in The Conservation Easement Handbook, “The ability of the grantor [landowner] to make economically viable, productive uses of the property may be as important to the long-term preservation of the open space character of the land as the easement itself.”
What is the government’s role?
Does the conservation easement give state or federal agencies increased access to private property? Does it subject the owner or the property to more rules and regulations?
The government has no role in the administration of a conservation easement donated to a non-profit land trust. The land trust can only monitor and enforce compliance with the terms in the easement, not other laws or regulations. No new regulations or governmental rules are imposed by establishing a conservation easement.