What does it mean to “conserve your land,” or “put your land in the land trust”?
These terms are used to describe how landowners act to permanently protect their land from development. When you conserve your land, you sign a legal document called a conservation easement and dedicate your property, forever, to being a part of the Lowcountry’s rural, productive, and natural landscape.
Sometimes the act of conservation is also referred to as “conveying development rights,” as conservation easements restrict the future subdivision or residential development of land. Conservation easements also prohibit mining, commercial development, or other activities detrimental to the ecological, agricultural, or silvicultural values of a property.
When you conserve your property, you continue to own and manage your land, and pay property taxes to the town. You are free to sell or pass on your conserved land, though the easement will stay with the land. As the holder of the conservation easement, our role is to ensure the terms of the conservation easement are honored by all future owners of your property.
What are my options if I want to conserve my land?
There are a variety of options for individuals and families who want to conserve their land. These options include the sale or donation of a conservation easement, a gift of land, or a future bequest of land or a conservation easement. We also work with municipalities and communities to conserve land that has significance to the public.
What kind of land does the Open Land Trust conserve?
We conserve working farms and high quality farmland, woodland, wildlife habitat, ecological resources, and places used by communities for education and recreation.
We accept donations of conservation easements on properties that are at least 10 acres in size. Smaller parcels are considered for conservation where there are high quality resources or features especially worthy of perpetual protection.
We also conserve smaller parcels of land—such as town greens—that are important gathering places for a community.
What are the benefits of conserving my land?
The hundreds of families and individuals who have worked with us to conserve their land tell us that their greatest reward is the personal satisfaction and peace of mind that comes from knowing their land will remain forever a part of our state’s unique landscape.
Landowners who donate conservation easements or give their land to OLT also benefit from income and estate tax deductions. Conservation easement donations can offset capital gains taxes, reduce estate taxes, and help landowners achieve their philanthropic goals.
For farmers or others who sell their development rights, conservation can help to reduce debt, enable the purchase of additional land, or facilitate the transfer of a family farm to the next generation.
What are the Tax Benefits?
Tax benefits for conservation easements or other donations are unique to each taxpayer’s situation and depend on many factors including donation value, adjusted gross income, etc. We do not provide tax advice to landowners and highly recommend consulting financial advisers when considering potential or actual tax benefits of such donations.
What can I do with my land once it is conserved?
You can continue to own and use the land for a variety of purposes, including farming and forestry, recreation, and education.
Conserved land can be sold or passed on to family members. The conservation easement will “run with the land,” requiring future owners of the land to abide by the terms of the conservation easement.
Conservation easements are monitored by staff members visit conserved land once a year to answer questions and ensure that the terms of the conservation easement are understood and upheld. Our staff is also available to provide information if you have questions or ideas pertaining to use of your land.
Are all conserved lands open to public recreation?
Each conserved property is different. While some conserved land is publicly owned and open to everyone, other conserved properties are family farms or forestland that are not suited for public recreation or access.
Some privately owned conserved properties, however, do have trails or special features that have long been enjoyed by neighbors or the public. In those special cases, landowners have often included a provision in their easement to permit continued use of their land by the public. Many landowners retain the right to permit or restrict access and recreationists should use the land respectfully and ask permission when it doubt.
Does the Open Land Trust buy or own land?
On occasion, we will purchase a farm or significant parcel of land that is at imminent risk of development or that presents a unique opportunity. This is one way we help beginning farmers purchase farmland at an affordable price.
We often receive gifts of land from generous landowners. These land gifts, which are sometimes the result of a bequest in a will, are an important source of support for our land conservation work.
There are a few special properties of which we are pleased to serve as an owner and steward. Through our ownership of these properties, we can demonstrate innovative land management practices in agriculture, forest management, biodiversity protection, and public recreation.
Where does OLT’s funding for land conservation come from?
Funding for the purchase of conservation easements comes from a range of sources, including: public sources of conservation funding, charitable foundations, and private donations from individuals, families, and businesses that support our land conservation work.
We apply for grants – these important grant funds are used to purchase conservation easements on private land and occasionally to facilitate municipal or state acquisition of land for community conservation uses.
Would it cost anything to conserve my land?
Yes, conserving your land will involve some costs.
If you are selling a conservation easement on your farmland or other eligible property, you will be responsible for covering the cost of your own legal and/or accounting advice. Additionally, you will be asked for a contribution towards the cost of the appraisal.
If you plan to donate a conservation easement, you can anticipate covering much of the costs of your own legal or tax advisers. If you wish to seek a charitable deduction for your conservation easement donation, you will also need to cover the cost of an appraisal.
Additionally, we do ask conservation easement donors to make a one-time contribution to help to cover the costs of our staff time spent directly on the project. Your charitable contribution also will establish a Stewardship Endowment for your property, which ensures our ability to support and uphold your conservation goals and the resources of your property in perpetuity.