Conservation easements are voluntary legal agreements between a landowner and a land trust like ALT or government agency that permanently restrict development or certain land uses in order to protect the land’s conservation values. Common conservation values may include prime farmland soils, rich wildlife habitat, location within a watershed or along a water resource, scenic or cultural importance, historic importance, or recreation potential and public access to nature. The monetary value of a conservation easement is the difference between the land’s vale with the easement and its value without the easement.
While ALT owns a few properties, the conservation easement is the primary tool ALT uses to protect land on Aquidneck Island. Under this arrangement, ALT does not own the land, we simply hold and enforce the set of restrictions called the conservation easement. The landowner continues to own the property and may sell it at any time.
The terms are negotiated to satisfy intended uses of the property for the landowner while preserving conservation values. While these arrangements typically restrict any kind of development or subdivision within easement boundaries, farming or recreational use are typically allowed. Conservation easements do not require public access and may have outzones for structures. Each site is different depending on the conservation values to be preserved. Conservation easements can be donated for tax benefits or ALT may purchase conservation easements on properties as well. All the conservation easements ALT agrees to are permanent and run with the land regardless of subsequent owners.
Each year, ALT runs an annual monitoring program, which involves site visits and meetings with landowners of conserved lands. These site visits ensure the terms of the conservation easement are being followed while allowing ALT staff to check in with landowners and discuss land management or any issues on the protected land.
Perpetuity is a long time. ALT has a restricted stewardship endowment to make sure all of its conservation easements continue to be monitored in the future regardless of the organization’s financial health, and has funds set aside as well as insurance for legal defense, if ever needed.