What is a land trust?
A land trust is a nonprofit organization that, as all or part of its mission, actively works to conserve land, in the public interest, through land transactions – primarily the purchase or acceptance of donations of land or conservation easements. Most land trusts are private charitable corporations.
Land trusts are incorporated nonprofits whose mission is to protect open space from development. They may, or may not, provide public access to their lands via hiking trails, etc. The primary goal is to keep open space open, to keep the green in Maine’s countryside. This is accomplished through two principal mechanisms — out right ownership and easements.
Ownership comes by means of purchase or gift. Land trusts fundraise in order to have the cash to buy land. Land trusts identify properties that they think are important — scenically, culturally, ecologically — and then enter into the market to acquire them, just like any other land buyer. Property owners can get a tax deduction for selling land to a land trust at less than appraised value (this is known as a “bargain sale”). There are no tax advantages for full value sales.
What is a conservation easement?
Conservation easements are another tool to protect land. The property owner deeds away the right to develop their property, thereby ensuring that it remains open space. The property is not owned by the land trust. The land trust works with the owner to ensure compliance with the terms of the easement (easements can be complicated or very simple, it all depends on what the owner wishes and what the land trust considers important to protect). There can be major tax advantages — both in income tax deductions and in inheritance taxes — with easement donations. Easements often allow a family to retain ownership of lands that might otherwise have been a tax burden.
A conservation easement is an agreement between a landowner and a private land trust or government. The agreement limits certain uses on all or a portion of a property for conservation purposes while keeping the property in the landowner’s ownership and control. The agreement is usually tailored to the particular property and to the goals of the owner and conservation organization. It applies to present and future owners of the land. Most conservation easements are donated by people who wish to protect a beloved place. The conservation easement is a nonpossessory interest of a holder in real property imposing limitations or affirmative obligations the purposes of which include retaining or protecting natural, scenic, or open-space values of real property, assuring its availability for agricultural, forest, recreational, or open-space use, protecting natural resources, maintaining or enhancing air or water quality, or preserving the historical, architectural, archaeological, or cultural aspects of real property.