Palmer Land Trust’s mission is to guarantee that open lands remain a part of southern Colorado forever. We are dedicated to helping landowners preserve their land, whether that entails helping it to remain as ranches and farms, ensuring that it stays in the family, or maintaining open spaces, scenic viewsheds and native wildlife habitats.
Once a property is permanently under a conservation easement with us, Palmer’s responsibility to the land is forever. This means that we have a financial responsibility to steward your land into perpetuity. We take this responsibility very seriously, and through continuous rigorous analysis and management, we have taken steps to ensure that our stewardship fund is robust enough to support our duties to your land forever. Please contact us to learn more about our financial sustainability.
Palmer Land Trust does not endorse or recommend individual professionals or firms. Landowners are encouraged to interview a number of professionals and inquire about their experience and expertise. Donors who plan to engage a brokering service for transfer of state tax credits should consult with the broker regarding the other professionals who will be used, especially the appraiser. Additional referrals are available upon request.
A conservation easement is a voluntary, legal agreement between a landowner and a qualified land trust that protects land in perpetuity. Specifically, a conservation easement places permanent restrictions on the use or development of the land in order to protect specific conservation values that are unique to that particular property.
The conservation easement is recorded in the county records and binds all current and future owners of the land. A conservation easement does not transfer ownership of the land; it only describes a landowner’s commitments to protect the existing character of the property. As a qualified land trust, Palmer Land Trust holds the conservation easement, but does not own the property or get involved in day-to-day management.
A land trust is a private, non-profit organization with a mission to help landowners protect the natural character and valuable natural resources on their property. A land trust is a non-governmental organization that can work with landowners and communities to protect agricultural, recreation, cultural, historic, and/or scenic values. Even on private lands, protecting these conservation values benefits both future landowners and the community as a whole. To see a list of the 1,700+ land trusts in the country visit the Land Trust Alliance.
In general, the conservation values of a property are what a conservation easement protects. Once you place an easement on your land, the land trust is responsible for ensuring protection of the conservation values of the land. The land trust accomplishes this by completing an annual monitoring visit and by communicating with the landowner throughout the year on different activities that may occur on the land.
The Internal Revenue Code Section 170(h) requires that conservation easement donations meet one or more of the following conservation purposes in order to qualify as a charitable contribution: -Preservation of land for outdoor recreation by, or the education of, the general public -Protection of relatively natural habitat or ecosystem -Preservation of open space for public scenic enjoyment or in following clearly delineated federal, state, or local governmental policies. Open space may include farms, ranches, pasturelands, and forests -Preservation of an historically important land area or a certified historic structure
Conservation easements enable landowners to protect the lands they love. They are the number one tool available for protecting privately owned lands. The number one reason a landowner places a conservation easement on their property is to see the land protected forever. While the landowner may value and responsibly manage the land, the future of Colorado includes increased residential and commercial development. By placing a conservation easement on the land, the landowner ensures that the conservation values of the land will be protected in perpetuity, no matter who owns the land.
Another potential benefit are the tax incentives. If donated, a conservation easement is considered a tax-deductible charitable gift by the IRS. Though every case is different, placing a conservation easement on your land may lead to some or all of the following: federal income tax deduction, estate tax reduction, and the Colorado Conservation Tax Credit (which can be sold).
A conservation easement that protects one or more of the Internal Revenue Code’s conservation purposes is considered a tax-deductible charitable gift. This allows for federal tax deductions and a potential reduction in property taxes and estate taxes. In the State of Colorado, we also have a generous state tax credit (Colorado Conservation Tax Credit) that is one of the few transferable conservation tax credits in the country. This credit allows landowners to sell their tax credits to a third party for cash. If it meets the federal requirements, a conservation easement can lower your federal income tax because you can claim the value of the easement as a tax-deductible charitable donation. By removing the land’s development potential, the easement typically lowers the property’s market value, which in turn lowers potential estate taxes. Beyond the appraised value of the land, the IRS allows the taxable value of property with a conservation easement to be reduced up to 40% more for estate tax purposes. It can also help you pass the land on to the next generation. A conservation easement helps you plan for the future of the land, and it can significantly lower your estate taxes. The actual amount of money saved in income taxes is determined by many factors including the value of the donated easement and your adjusted gross income. Palmer Land Trust strongly recommends consulting a financial advisor to help determine the potential monetary benefits of placing a conservation easement on your land.
Not every easement will qualify for the tax incentives. In order to qualify for the tax incentives the conservation easement must be: •Perpetual: if the land is sold or given to someone else, the easement will follow the deed of title in perpetuity. •Donated to a qualified organization, such as Palmer Land Trust. •Donated for specific conservation purposes, as set out in the Internal Revenue Code Section 170(h)
Because property with a conservation easement in place cannot be fully used or developed as zoning would otherwise allow, its market value is decreased. The conservation easement value is the difference between the highest and best use of the property before donation of the easement, and the value of the property after it is restricted by the easement. This amount is calculated by a state-qualified appraiser and is difficult to estimate without the appraiser’s calculations. As long as the easement follows the IRS requirements, the portion of the easement value that is donated becomes a charitable tax donation.
Under no circumstances does a conservation easement on private land require public access. Though a qualified conservation easement must have “public benefit,” this does not necessarily mean that the public is allowed to access your property. It is the landowner’s decision as to whether or not to allow public access.
During a bargain sale transaction, certain funders may be more willing to fund the purchase of an easement on a property if it includes public access. However, for a donated easement, public access is always up to the landowner.
Access is not required for easements that protect wildlife or plant habitats or for easements that protect open space or agricultural land. However, an easement that is protected for outdoor recreation or educational purposes must allow public access.
First the conservation values of the property are defined, then restrictions are created to protect the values specific to the property. Every deed of conservation easement is different, and staff will work with you to determine the reserved rights and prohibitions that are appropriate for your land. Conservation easements generally place some sort of restriction on these types of activities: •subdivision of the property •building and structure improvement on the property •topography and watercourse alterations •open pit or strip mining activities
For example, an easement protecting irrigated farmland may prevent construction of buildings that would impede the conservation of valuable farm ground. An easement designed to protect wildlife habitat around a lake or a stream may allow limited inland construction of buildings or trails, but restrict building on the more sensitive shoreline.
Landowner: The landowner remains responsible for the land, for its maintenance and upkeep, for paying taxes, and for otherwise meeting the typical obligations of land ownership. Conservation easements add a few further requirements: •To comply with the restrictions in the easement •To notify the easement holder of any proposed changes to the property •To allow land trust staff access to the property for annual monitoring visits •To notify the easement holder when selling or transferring the property
Land Trust: As the easement holder, the land trust is obligated to oversee and enforce the terms of the easement, and will legally defend it in the event of a violation. The land trust is also legally obligated to complete an annual monitoring visit to ensure the conservation values are being upheld. The land trust does not have the right to use the property without the landowner’s permission.
Palmer Land Trust believes that conservation easements are one of the best ways to preserve private lands because landowners have the most experience with and knowledge of the land. The landowner remains in control of the land. As the landowner, you continue to manage the land on a day-to-day basis, making all decisions regarding operations. The easement holder (e.g. Palmer Land Trust) is responsible for ensuring that the restrictions described in the easement are followed. To do this, the land trust monitors the property regularly, typically once per year. The land trust will work with you and all subsequent owners to ensure the activities that occur on the land are consistent with the easement terms.
A property with a conservation easement can be bought, sold, and inherited. However, the conservation easement is tied to the land and binds all present and subsequent owners to its terms and restrictions. Because the land has these restrictions, the fair market value may be less than it would be without the restrictions, but the conservation easement should not prevent you from selling your land.
The timeline of a conservation easement is highly variable. A typical, relatively straightforward easement can take anywhere from 6-8 months to complete. A more complicated easement (with multiple ownership interests, heavily negotiated terms, or outside funding) may take more than a year to fully complete.
The relationship between landowner and easement holder is an important one. It is critical that you ensure you are working with a land trust that has the same long-term goals as you, has the same vision for protection of your land, and is in a strong financial position to monitor and enforce your easement in perpetuity. Palmer Land Trust works in partnership with landowners to ensure the permanent preservation of their land. We strive to balance the needs of landowners with the perpetual responsibility of holding the conservation easement. Our board and staff are committed to ensuring we have the financial resources to uphold our commitment to your property and that we have a capable and skilled staff to work in partnership with you to achieve our mutual goals.
If you have more questions about placing a conservation easement on your land, or if you are ready to get started, please fill out the Landowner Contact Form and one of our staff will get back to you. Or you may call 719-632-3236 to speak with someone directly.
Landowners retain the title to their property, along with the right to sell, lease, borrow against, bequeath, and manage their land. By placing restrictions on usage and development, a landowner is voluntarily giving up a portion of their rights, but the landowner and Palmer negotiate the terms of the easement together, and each easement is tailored to the unique character of the land and each individual landowner’s goals and values. Anyone considering a conservation easement should hire experienced legal counsel, and should not sign an easement that does not meet the needs and desires of the family.
Fact: The deed of conservation easement will spell out the terms by which a conservation easement can be transferred to another party. Palmer Land Trust’s standard deed of conservation easement strictly prohibits a transfer to a government entity without the explicit written consent of the landowner.
Fact: Conservation easements do not prohibit you from selling your property, and many conserved properties are bought and sold throughout Colorado every year. A conservation easement typically reduces the market value of a property, depending upon the restrictions of the deed, and the property’s location and type. A conservation easement may also extend the time it takes to market and sell a property.
Fact: Land under easement continues to appreciate, but based on a reduced value. Once conveyed, a conservation easement can reduce a property’s value depending upon the restrictions of the deed, and the property’s location and type