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Preserving Land

(For a more detailed discussion see the factsheets published by the Land Trust Alliance and the Maryland Environmental Trust. )

What does a land trust do?
A land trust is a private, nonprofit organization that works to conserve land from development by acquiring -- through purchase or acceptance of donations -- property or conservation easements. Land trusts work with landowners to achieve common goals of protecting natural areas, open space, farmland, historic sites, scenic views, and other valuable resources. The land is preserved in perpetuity. Land trusts therefore have a responsibility to take actions today that preserve those values for future generations.

What is a conservation easement?

A conservation easement is a legally binding agreement that protects the land from changes that would advsersely affect its conservation value, such as development and subdivision. The owner retains the land while relinquishing specific rights to make changes to it. The property may be transferred and sold freely, but subsequent owners are bound by the easement restrictions. Easements can be crafted to meet the mutual objectives of the landowner and the land trust. A conservation easement does not, in itself, give public access rights to the land.

One of the most important functions of a land trust is to monitor compliance with conservation easements, making sure that the terms of the easement are met by the owner and subsequent owners, by visiting the site regularly, notifying owners if there are deviations, and if necessary enforcing the easement in court. Land trusts are also actively engaged in promoting conservation, educating the community, and helping landowners to achieve conservation objectives such as creating wildlife habitat, protecting waterways or improving woodlands.

Why do landowners preserve their property?

Preserving property from development protects its character for future generations. By placing the land, or the rights to develop it, with an organization that is solely dedicated to the objective of land preservation, a landowner reduces the risk that the property will lose its special values through development. Once open space has been built upon, it is nearly impossible for the land ever again to provide the values it does today.

In addition landowners may obtain financial advantages by preserving land, whether by sale or donation. By selling land or easements to a land trust, a landowner can generate needed cash. Donations of land or easements generate effective income by reducing tax expenses. There are federal tax benefits for donating land or conservation easements, provided the transaction meets tax code requirements. Also, by reducing the appraised value of the land, the landowner reduces future estate taxes, making it more likely that heirs will be able to afford to keep the property. In Maryland, donations of easements that include the Maryland Environmental Trust as an easement holder may qualify for state income tax credit, and may reduce the site's value for property tax purposes. Communities also benefit economically from land preservation, which reduces costs of development such as the need for additional infrastructure as well as the loss of natural resources.

How can I learn more?

Contact the Patuxent Tidewater Land Trust for more information on the benefits of preservation in our service area. For details on potential tax benefits available to you in your particular situation, consult an attorney or tax accountant who is familiar with land conservation.

Patuxent Tidewater Land Trust
P.O. Box 1955
Leonardtown, MD 20650
© Patuxent Tidewater Land Trust 1996-2011