The primary tool used to permanently protect land from development is a Conservation Easement. Simply put, a conservation easement is a legal agreement between a landowner and a nonprofit conservation organization, like the East Cooper Land Trust (ECLT), that permanently limits a property's uses in order to protect its conservation values. An easement allows the landowner to determine how their land will be used in the future. Conservation easements can help permanently protect significant ecological, cultural, historic and archaeological areas. Once it is recorded and attached to the deed, all future owners are bound by its terms.
When you own land, you also own many rights that come with the land. When you donate an easement to the ECLT, you voluntarily and permanently give up some of those rights. For example, you typically give up the right to develop the property for commercial or industrial purposes to protect the land from further development. You retain ownership of the property and certain other rights. Examples of these rights might include the rights to hunt, fish, engage in agricultural activities, and harvesting timber. In some circumstances, you may be able to retain some limited rights to subdivide and/or build additional residential structures and related buildings on the property. An easement is flexible and is tailored to meet your vision and protect the conservation values of your property.
This donation of rights has a value. If your gift meets the federal tax code requirements for protecting the conservation value of the land, the donation of a conservation easement can be treated as a charitable gift and its value can be deducted from your federal income taxes. In addition, you may qualify for tax credits on your South Carolina income taxes. You should consult with your accountant or tax advisor to determine if your gift qualifies for such tax benefits.
According to the Land Trust Alliance, more than five million acres in the United States have been protected through conservation easements. Conservation easements are a popular land protection tool because they are extremely flexible and allow a landowner to conserve their land while still enjoying it.
If you are interested in taking the next step toward a possible Conservation Easement, read our Steps in the Process.