Conservation Restrictions

Conservation Restriction (also called Conservation Easements and CRs) have helped thousands of American families protect millions of acres of open space. A conservation restriction is a legal agreement between a landowner and a land trust or other agency that permanently limits use of the land in order to protect its conservation values.


How Conservation Restriction Work

  • You continue to own and use your land. You may sell it or pass it on to heirs
  • When you donation a conservation restriction (CR) to a land trust or a conservation agency, you agree on behalf of yourself and successor owners not to develop or use the property in specified ways harmful to the features or qualities to be protected. This agreement is recorded with the state like a deed.
  • You may specify the conservation values to be protected, determine the limits, as well as the allowed uses of your land.
  • A CR may apply to only a specific portion of your property, leaving the option of development or building future homes for your children and grandchildren open for the remaining part. It may even allow limited building within the area under restriction. A CR agreement is recorded like a deed, and all present and future owners of the property will have to comply with its terms.
  • A CR can be fashioned to meet the financial and personal needs of the landowner.
  • A CR can also be donated via a will with the same effect on estate taxes as a life-time donation. The restriction should be negotiated with proposed recipient before being written into your will.
  • Massachusetts law provides for a broad variety of conservation restrictions which can be used to protect lands. As defined by the State and the IRS, a valid conservation purpose is one or more of the following:
  • Areas for public recreation or education
  • A natural habitat for fish, wildlife, plants, etc.
  • Scenic enjoyment or nay like public benefit
  • Farmland and forestland or like open space
  • Historically important land area or structure

Donated CR’s must be documented to demonstrate any of the above criteria and substantiated by appraisal. If your lawyer is unfamiliar with this strategy, your Lands Trust will be pleased to direct you appropriately.

CRs are donated and enforced for the benefit of the public, but they do not give the public any right to use the property unless the agreement specifically allows for public access.


Advantages of a Conversation Restriction

If you donate a conservation restriction that meets federal tax code requirements, the value of the restriction can be treated as a charitable gift and deducted from income tax (to the extent your particular tax situation allows), and may also result in property tax savings.

Whether the restriction is donated during your life or by will, it can make a critical difference in your heirs’ ability to keep the land intact. By removing the land’s development potential, the restriction lowers its market value, which in turn lowers estate tax.

The Sippican Lands Trust has a step-by-step, how-to document on setting up a Conservation Restriction, available upon request.