Forest Conservation Easements

A conservation easement is a transfer of usage rights which creates an enforceable land preservation agreement between a forest landowner and a land protection organization (land trust) or government entity. Typically, an easement restricts development and commercial activities and provides public access on a property, while allowing a forest landowner to continue certain activities including timber harvesting for income generation.

The decision to place a conservation easement on forested property is binding on all future landowners. Restrictions are spelled out in a legal document that is recorded in the local property assessor’s office and the easement becomes a part of the title of the property.

For a forest landowner, the primary purpose of a forest conservation easement is to protect timber resources and other natural resources such as wildlife, water, and open space by separating the right to subdivide and build on the property from other rights of ownership, and to generate income from unrealized highest and best use (HBU) potential. The landowner who gives up development rights continues to own and manage the land. Typically, governments and conservation groups buy easements. Also, there may be significant tax advantages for donating a conservation easement.

The conservation easement holder has a responsibility to monitor future uses of the land to ensure compliance with the terms of the easement, and to enforce the terms if a violation occurs. Southeastern Forest Management can assist with planning and management of conservation easements throughout the eastern US.