Across America, thousands of people are determined to conserve the places they value. Landowners have a deep connection to their land and know the gifts undeveloped properties provide their communities: clean air and water, fresh food, wildlife habitat, and sheer scenic beauty.
All-too-often these special places disappear forever because of development.
Every day, over 5,000 acres of land are developed in the U.S.
Perhaps the biggest threat to natural lands is fragmentation. As large properties are divided into smaller parcels, they can no longer support traditional farming, ranching and forestry and thus no longer support rural economies as they once did. Land fragmentation also leads to loss of open space, decline in wildlife habitat, water quality problems caused by erosion and run-off, and higher demand for county services in rural areas. The 1940 vs 2000 Housing Density Growth map shows the drastic increase in fragmentation throughout Michigan.
There are a variety of voluntary conservation options that give you, as a landowner, the flexibility to meet your needs while providing lasting conservation benefits. Many of these include significant income, estate and property tax reductions that you should carefully consider with your legal and financial advisors.
A conservation agreement is a voluntary legal agreement between a landowner and a land trust to permanently protect a property’s natural characteristics by limiting how it can be used. The land remains private property, but it can only be developed to the extent specified in the easement. The land can be sold with the easement in place or passed down to successors. Unlike deed restrictions and covenants, a land protection agreement comes with a stewardship commitment from the land trust to monitor the land and ensure that the easement’s terms are carried through into perpetuity.
Donating land for conservation leaves a legacy that lasts long after we’re gone. Some prefer to donate land in their wills, while others donate their property up front to take full advantage of income and estate tax deductions.
If you need to realize some immediate income from selling your land, yet would like the property to go to a land trust, a bargain sale might be the answer. In a bargain sale, you sell the land to a land trust for less than its fair market value.
This not only makes it more affordable for the land trust, but offers several benefits to you: it provides cash, avoids some capital gains tax, and entitles you to a charitable income tax deduction based on the difference between the land’s fair market value and its sale price.
By negotiating a mutually agreeable price, the transfer is more affordable for the land trust.
The decision to conserve your land using any of these options requires careful consideration of your personal financial circumstances, your land resource and, above all, your hopes for the future of your land. It is important to talk with your tax and legal advisers to understand all the benefits and implications of land conservation.
The time it takes to conserve land can range from six months to several years. In addition, there are usually some costs involved with conservation, including expenses for your personal advisers, appraisal fees, and, for certain types of projects, a one-time contribution towards our staff and stewardship costs.
We are always happy to discuss which land conservation method will best suit your personal goals and your land.