Little River Wetlands Project assists landowners with their own conservation efforts to the degree our staff or expert volunteers have time available. Most important as a means of such help is the conservation easement.
The following is intended to be of use to landowners who wish to consider setting up a conservation easement on all or part of their property. Its accuracy is not guaranteed and it does not replace professional, legal, or tax advice which should be sought before setting up such an easement. Consult your individual tax advisor for an analysis of your options.
A conservation easement is a legal agreement a landowner enters into to limit the type and amount of development rights on all or part of his property. Generally, people who want to protect all or part of their property in its present state, or restore it to a more natural state, may consider establishing a conservation easement. A legal document with recorded deed restrictions is used to define how development rights on the particular property will be limited--for example, can the land under the easement still be farmed, or will it be left in or restored to a natural state? The restrictions are flexible, and they may be tailored to the needs of individual landowners. However, these restrictions almost always attach to the land forever. While the land may go from owner to owner, the conservation easement remains with the parcel forever.
Each easement must be "held" by a nonprofit or governmental organization. This organization doesn't own the land--the landowner still owns it and controls access to it--but the organization has the responsibility to monitor the easement, that is, to visit at least annually to be sure the conditions of the easement are still being met. Little River Wetlands Project will consider holding an easement on land (especially wetland) within its project area: the Little River valley southwest of Fort Wayne. Other organizations such as ACRES Land Trust (260-637-2273) and Wood-Land-Lakes (260-665-3211, ext 5) may be willing to accept such easements on other natural land or land that is to remain farmland.
Besides the pleasure of knowing that one's land will almost surely be protected from development forever, there are possible tax benefits to setting up a conservation easement. Your property taxes may go down because the land is worth less than it would be if the land could be developed (built on). Additionally, the property owner may be able to deduct the difference in price between the appraised value of the land before and after entering into the conservation easement as a charitable donation for income tax purposes. Land under an easement may also be appraised lower as part of the landowner's estate, which might assist with "keeping the land in the family" after death.. These often significant tax benefits are evaluated on a case by case basis. Careful legal consultation is always a part of conservation easement planning.
If you would like to discuss a possible conservation easement with LRWP staff, please call our office at 260-478-2515.
In December, 2006, LRWP accepted its first conservation easement on private property (see write-up on conservation easements above). The landowners chose to protect 140 natural acres of their 160-acre property including a wetland, an old-growth forest, and a fully restored tallgrass prairie. Located on the banks of the Little River, this property also features geologically interesting topography such as a sand dune and huge rocks left by ancient glaciers.
LRWP periodically holds landowner meetings to offer information about conservation easements and assistance to those interested in finding out more. If interested, call us at 260-478-2515.
LRWP can sometimes offer information or advice to landowners, schools or other groups that wish to restore areas of their property to a more natural state or to enhance existing habitat. Staff and volunteer time for such help is limited, and may consist of referrals to appropriate government or private entities expert in these matters.