A conservation easement is a voluntary legal agreement between a landowner and a land trust or government agency that permanently limits uses of the land in order to protect its conservation values. It allows you to continue to own and use your land and to sell it or pass it on to heirs.
This page provides details about what to expect as a conservation easement landowner.
We are committed to working with you in a timely manner to ensure any proposed activity is appropriate. We have provided a list of landowner management resources on our website, and SAHC staff are always available to answer questions.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a baseline documentation report?
A baseline documentation report is required by the conservation easement and establishes the existing condition and conservation values of the property at the time the easement is granted. The baseline report serves as the foundation for future monitoring and documentation in the event an issue arises.
What is an annual monitoring visit?
Easement monitoring involves a minimum of one visit per year from SAHC staff and/or AmeriCorps members to inspect the easement area, document any changes, and evaluate those changes with respect to the conservation easement. In some years, SAHC may opt to monitor remotely using aerial imagery in place of on-the-ground monitoring; this is consistent with Land Trust Standards and Practices.
What is an encroachment?
An encroachment is a non-permitted incursion into the protected property, usually by a neighbor. Examples include (but are not limited to) a fence, garden or lawn that occur a few feet over the protected property line, the cutting of trees by neighbors to improve their scenic views, or an overhanging deck that cross the boundary.
Why are conservation easement boundaries marked with signs?
It is our policy to post boundaries of SAHC-held conservation easements with “Conservation Area” or “Conservation Easement Boundary” signs. Ensuring that easement boundaries are clearly marked helps SAHC defend and enforce the terms of an easement should an encroachment arise. Posting boundaries is an important step to maintaining the public trust in our work.
What does purple paint mean?
Purple paint on trees, fences, or other objects means “keep out” or “no trespassing” in many states. Legislation like NC’s Landowner Protection Act and Tennessee Code § 39-14-405 (2017) makes provision that homeowners can use purple paint markings to legally signal to hikers, hunters, and others to stay off their private property.
Does a conservation easement mean my property is open to the public?
No. You, as the landowner, retain many rights in owning and managing your private property. Unless you allow it, the conservation easement IS NOT open to the public.
Are there property tax benefits associated with my conservation easement?
The encumbrance of a conservation easement on your property may not translate into a reduction in annual property taxes. There are state present-use value programs that can help alleviate (but not eliminate) your property tax burden. SAHC cannot provide tax advice and we encourage landowners to contact their county tax office and obtain professional guidance from their attorney, accountant or tax specialist to determine their specific tax implications.
Who should I contact with questions about my conservation easement?
We welcome your questions! If you have been provided with the name of a staff member who is primarily responsible for your conservation easement, please reach out to that person directly. Otherwise, feel free to contact any member of our Stewardship Team below with your question – and let us know about the location of your easement and your contact info – and we will find the appropriate person to help.
Stop and Contact Us First!
If you are the landowner of a conservation easement, please contact us first if you are planning any land management activity. Planning to sell or refinance your conserved property? Please contact us! Since conservation easements last forever, there will inevitably be changes in the status of ownership of your land over time. Knowing about such changes in advance if possible is very important to SAHC as the easement holder. Our goal is to help avoid inadvertent violations that can arise, through prior discussion of your plans with SAHC.
Before You Sign…
If you are considering signing any kind of document that might affect the ownership status of all or part of your conservation easement property please notify SAHC prior to signing. Examples of such activities include the following, for which conservation easements typically require notice to the land trust holding the easement:
- Change in ownership of all or part of the property
- Transfer of property title to an LLC, trust, or corporation
- Name change of the LLC or other entity owning the property
- Transfer of any interest in the property to another entity
- Granting of a right-of-way or easement across the property
- Borrowing money and securing the loan with all or part of the property, through a mortgage, deed of trust or other kind of lien
Activities on the Land
Some activities on your land or exercise of your reserved rights require prior approval by SAHC before you undertake them. Depending on your easement, the types of activities that commonly require landowners to get prior approval or notify SAHC include:
- Construction or replacement of new structures or additions to old structures
- Construction of new roads or widening/expansion of old roads
- Installation of a new utilities system
- Construction of bridges
- Forest management activities including timbering, thinning, controlled burning
Conservation easements vary in their terms, so please be sure to consult your easement for details. If you are unsure if an activity requires prior notification or approval from SAHC, just give us a call. Our stewardship staff is happy to help answer questions regarding your conservation easement. We are committed to working with you to ensure that any proposed activity is consistent with the conservation purposes and certain terms and conditions of your easement.
Meet the Stewardship Team
Roan Stewardship Director
What to Expect as a Conservation Easement Landowner
Easement monitoring involves an annual visit from SAHC staff and/or AmeriCorps members to inspect the easement area, document any changes, and evaluate those changes with respect to the conservation easement. You are always welcome to accompany us during a monitoring visit, but not required to. SAHC will notify you in advance when we would like to monitor your property.
Normally, SAHC conducts an on-the-ground monitoring visit to the conservation easement property once a year. In some years, SAHC may opt to monitor remotely using aerial imagery in place of on-the-ground monitoring. This is consistent with Land Trust Standards and Practices. However, SAHC must conduct an on-the-ground monitoring visit to the conservation easement at least once every five years.
In correspondence prior to annual monitoring, your stewardship contact will ask you:
1. Have there been any changes to your conservation easement property within the last year or since our last visit?
2. Do you anticipate any changes to your property in the near future?
3. Have you signed any legal document related to your conservation easement property, lien/mortgage or agreed to any division of your property?
After the monitoring visit, SAHC will contact you if anything of concern was noted during the monitoring visit. If you wish to receive a copy of the completed monitoring report, please notify your primary stewardship contact.
It is our policy to post boundaries of SAHC-held conservation easements with “Conservation Area” or “Conservation Easement Boundary” signs. Ensuring that easement boundaries are clearly marked helps SAHC defend and enforce the terms of an easement should an encroachment arise. Furthermore, SAHC is accountable to uphold our commitment to conservation, pursuant to the federal laws that authorize charitable non-profit organizations. Posting boundaries is an important step to maintaining the public trust in our work. SAHC takes a long view of conservation, and because the ownership of neighboring properties changes frequently relative to permanent land protection, we have to mitigate our risk of potential future encroachments.
If desired and provided that resources allow, SAHC Stewardship staff will assist with posting purple paint along conservation easement boundaries per the Landowner Protection Act (H762) which states that written permission to hunt, fish, or trap must be dated within twelve months and be signed by the landowner, lessee, or agent of the land, and written consent must be carried in-person by the visitor while onsite and provided upon request of any law enforcement officer. Furthermore, the Act allows wildlife officers [SS5] to enforce trespass laws onsite.
Changes in Ownership
As with any property, land subject to a conservation easement changes hands over time. In order to ensure perpetual protection of our conservation easements, we ask that you notify all potential buyers and lessees about the easement on your property. We are available to speak to prospective buyers and their agents regarding the terms of the easement. We also ask that you notify SAHC if you sell your property or if you transfer ownership to another party (including trusts). It is very important that prospective landowners of property protected by conservation easements understand the significance of the easement; what it means, its restrictions, and SAHC’s monitoring protocol. When notified of new landowners, we can contact them, introduce our organization, and review the terms of the conservation easement. In addition, we can explain our stewardship program and answer any questions new owners may have. Establishing contact immediately with the new landowners helps us to minimize misunderstandings and prevent violations of easement terms.
You may have reserved rights in your easement document that allow certain types of development or activities on the protected property. Keep these points in mind and refer to your easement for specific terms:
- Some reserved rights may be permitted only once, while others are perpetual. Certain activities are restricted to a portion of the easement area, while others are unrestricted as to location. In many cases, prior consent by SAHC is required before the commencement of any construction or the execution of other reserved rights.
- When prior consent is required, it is very important that you notify SAHC and submit plans in advance. If a planned activity is compliant with the conservation easement, SAHC will send written approval. If it is not in compliance, you will be asked to submit alternate plans.
- A record of all exercised reserved rights is kept in our permanent files. You are responsible for being aware of and complying with all laws on your property. If the law requires permits or notification of any government agencies before undertaking an activity, you must complete those steps before going forward. SAHC is responsible only for evaluating your plans with regard to the easement area. Likewise, when government officials evaluate your plans, they will not consider whether your plans meet the terms of the conservation easement.