Conservation Easements

What are Conservation Easements?

Conservation easements are voluntary, private land protection agreements between a landowner and a qualified organization like the Wolf River Conservancy. They are carefully crafted to help achieve a landowner’s vision for conserving the agricultural, wildlife, and scenic resources on their property. Each is customized to the landowner’s goals and will protect all or part of his or her property from inappropriate future development. Conservation easements run with title to the land and last in perpetuity.

Does my land qualify for a conservation easement?

Wolf River Conservancy helps to protect lands within the Wolf River watershed, especially its 100-year floodplain.  In general, land on or adjacent to the Wolf River is applicable. We do follow a broader defined area:  land located in the following counties (Shelby, Fayette, Hardeman, Tipton, and southern portions of Lauderdale and Haywood in TN or Desoto, Marshall, Benton, Tippah, or Alcorn in MS) and within one of the following watersheds:  Wolf River, Coldwater River, Hatchie River, or Loosahatchie River.

We evaluate whether we can accept a conservation easement based on a project’s conservation values such as wildlife habitat, scenic open space, agricultural productivity, and connectivity with other conserved lands. Most conservation easements are donated.  

Why do landowners choose to place a conservation easement on their land?

Creating a conservation easement is both a personal decision and a financial one. Landowners choose to place a conservation easementon their land for the peace of mind in knowing it will be forever conserved. There are also financial incentives. Federal income tax benefits often apply to gifts of land protection agreements (conservation easements). The Conservancy will work with landowners and their appraisers, tax advisors, and attorneys to craft a conservation strategy that will work best for them and their land.

What are the tax benefits?

Donation of a conservation easement that meets federal requirements is treated as a charitable gift and can provide a landowner with income and estate tax savings. The landowner may qualify for federal tax benefits (see a summary here). In order to be a qualified conservation contribution under the federal laws, it must meet several regulations, including that it be perpetual, be granted to a qualified organization (like Wolf River Conservancy), and protect relatively natural wildlife habitat or scenic open space that provides public benefit (including farmland and forest land).

What kinds of restrictions does a conservation easement place on the land?

Each conservation easement is unique, and Wolf River Conservancy will work with you to explore the options for your property. Easements are voluntary, with terms agreed to by both the landowner and the Conservancy. We want to make sure that the restrictions will preserve or enhance the conservation values on the property. One example is to limit the number, location, and extent of future residential structures. Traditional uses of the land, such as farming and hunting are generally not restricted.  Managing for timber is typically allowed with some restrictions. These restrictions are designed to enable the landowner to continue to manage and utilize the land, while maintaining conservation values.

What happens once the land is in a conservation easement?

Once a perpetual conservation easement is in place, Wolf River Conservancy works with the private landowner to ensure that the agreement’s goals are upheld. We will contact the landowner once a year to monitor the property and ensure the agreement is being upheld.  We are always available as a resource to landowners, but we do not get involved in day-to-day decisions about land management or agricultural practices.

If my land is in a conservation easement, can I sell it or pass it on to my heirs?

Yes. Since conservation easements are perpetual and run with title to the land, any future landowners will be subject to the terms of the agreement as delineated by the original donor.  Wolf River Conservancy will continue to monitor the property in perpetuity regardless of who owns the land.

Does a conservation easement affect property taxes?

No. By Tennessee statute, conservation easements do not affect property taxes. The private landowner is still responsible for paying property taxes.  You may qualify for Greenbelt Assessment, which can reduce your property tax burden.

Do conservation easements make land available to public access?