Conservation Easements - What Are They?

by Gray Merriam

The name does not suggest the great potential for environmental stewardship. A conservation easement can apply your wishes for a property into the future for 9,999 years.

You and your family record what you would like to be done to your property and what you do not want to be done to it. That record is attached to the deed and stays with the deed from owner to owner into the future beyond our stewardship of our land. The other vital mechanism is to have the care of the property monitored into the future. An approved Land Trust commits to that task. Every new owner is made aware of the easement and the rules for the care of the land and if they do not follow the rules, the Land Trust will inform them and if needed, deal with the infraction legally.

Land owners have two initial views of such an arrangement.

Some, such as me, see it as a marvelous possibility for applying good stewardship beyond our lifetimes. They aren't making any more of the marvelous land that we live on. Others suggest that such a constraint on the property will reduce its dollar value at time of sale. That view is complicated. In some studied cases, where several neighbours all attached easements to their properties, they essentially created a local “reserve” with outstanding qualities in the view of some buyers and the prices rose.

That relates to a second view by owners. Some owners see any decrease in price as a reasonable cost for being able to guarantee favourable future conditions on earth.

A third consideration is that Environment Canada offers a possibility of a tax credit for any decrease in sale value projected by an approved assessor provided the land has conservation value in the view of an approved ecological assessor.

A final consideration is that the main effect on property sale will be to restrict the cohort of buyers who will be interested to that group that values the same qualities as you have conserved by the conditions written in your easement. The value adjustment will be a personal judgement supported by legal advice.

Land Trusts are coordinated by a provincial body. We have worked with two local Land Trusts: the Land Conservancy for Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington that focuses mainly northward from Kingston (contact: schmolka@kingston.net). The Mississippi Madawaska Land Trust Conservancy works down into the Frontenacs approximately following the Mississippi watershed (contact: hclifford@xplornet.com). There are other Trusts in L & A and Prince Edward County and also east in areas of the Rideau. Contacts for all the Trusts can be found at: Ontario Land Trust Alliance (clindsay@cfc-fcc.ca)