The Freshwater Land Trust works in Jefferson, Shelby, St. Clair, Blount, Walker, Bibb, Tuscaloosa, and Chilton Counties.
Would you consider land protection opportunities outside of that area?
We focus our conservation work in those counties. However, the Board of Directors agrees that if we were asked to help with an important conservation project outside of our work area, we would certainly consider it.
How do you decide what lands you want to protect?
The Freshwater Land Trust’s Board of Directors set five major conservation priorities that we use when considering new lands for protection. A property that ranked high in each of these categories and within our seven-county work area would be considered a high conservation priority:
- Water Quality Protection (areas with high risk of erosion)
- Biological Conservation (sites that contain rare species & biological communities)
- Recreational Potential (open spaces within or near population centers)
- Important Connectors (linkages between existing conservation areas)
- Community Conservation Priorities (archaeological / paleontological sites, historical sites, bicycle / pedestrian routes, viewsheds, etc.)
What is a land trust?
A land trust is a nonprofit organization that works to protect land through donation or purchase. Land trusts work with willing landowners who wish to donate or sell their land or conservation easements on their land for conservation purposes. According to the Land Trust Alliance, there are over 1,500 land trusts in the nation.
What is a conservation easement?
A conservation easement is a legal agreement between a landowner and a land trust or government agency that permanently limits uses of the land in order to protect its conservation values.
It allows you to continue to own and use your land and to sell it or pass it on to heirs. When you donate a conservation easement to a land trust, you give up some of the rights associated with the land. For example, you might give up the right to build additional structures, while retaining the right to grow crops. Future owners also will be bound by the easement’s terms. The land trust is responsible for making sure the easement’s terms are followed.
Conservation easements offer great flexibility:
An easement on property containing rare wildlife habitat might prohibit any development, for example, while one on a farm might allow continued farming and the building of additional agricultural structures.
An easement may apply to just a portion of the property, and need not require public access.
A landowner sometimes sells a conservation easement, but usually easements are donated. If the donation benefits the public by permanently protecting important conservation resources and meets other federal tax code requirements it can qualify as a tax-deductible charitable donation. The amount of the donation is the difference between the land’s value with the easement and its value without the easement. Placing an easement on your property may or may not result in property tax savings. Please consult a tax advisor if you are considering an easement donation.
A conservation easement can be essential for passing land on to the next generation. By removing the land’s development potential, the easement lowers its market value, which in turn lowers estate tax. Whether the easement is donated during life or by will, it can make a critical difference in the heirs’ ability to keep the land intact.
For more information on conservation easements, please visit the Land Trust Alliance’s website.