If you live in Washington state, chances are you have enjoyed or admired the natural beauty of the coastlines, mountains, and valleys that make this state so unique. You may even have moved to Washington out of love for the outdoors and the peace and quiet they provide or for the opportunity to engage in a wide range of outdoor activities.
As the population in Washington grows, cities expand to accommodate an increasing influx of residents. As this happens, more and more areas of natural wilderness are encroached upon for development. Roads must be built to access new towns, utilities provided, and more land used for industries such as agriculture or energy development. All of these needs impact the natural land that many Washington residents have come to love.
Increasingly, Washington property owners have begun to wonder how lands can be protected in order to ensure that they do not become vulnerable to development or at risk of being diminished through oil and gas exploration or public works projects. If you are one such property owner or know someone who is, one option to consider is the creation of a conservation easement.
What Are Conservation Easements in Bonney Lake
Conservation easements are a voluntary agreement between land trusts or land banks and private landowners. Through a conservation easement, a private landowner agrees to give a land trust a conservation easement over his or her land. The terms of the conservation easement set forth what can and cannot be done on the land, typically protecting it from further development. In exchange, the private landowner typically receives compensation for the lost “value” of being able to develop the land.
Conservation easements are like many other easements in that they do not change who owns the land nor restrict the right of the owner to take certain actions with the land. For example, a private property owner can sell the property to a third party or leave it in his will to his children. However, like other easements, the conservation easement runs with the land and restricts the actions of any future owners.
Benefits of a Conservation Easement
Conservation easements are different from other conservation options, such as donating property to become a public park or for public lands use. Under a conservation easement agreement, a private landowner continues to retain control over the land. He or she can do whatever is allowed under the terms of the easement, without needing to get the approval or sign-off from another third party.
This retention of control is very important to landowners who may have a sentimental attachment to their property or who view it as an asset that they would like to transfer to another family member or heir down the road. The landowner can know they are doing something to help maintain Washington’s natural landscape without completely giving up rights to the land.
Conservation easements can also be set on whatever terms work for the private landowner and the land trust/land bank that retains the conservation easement. For example, if a farmer engages in historical sustainable farming practices that benefit the land, he or she may be able to continue to do so under a conservation easement while preventing the land from eventually being subject to developers’ plans down the road.
Conservation easements also create a partnership between the private landowner and the trust that receives the easement. The trust has a vested interest in making sure that the easement is followed and the land is maintained, and thus, will typically also invest resources in the monitoring and upkeep of the land, which helps the property owner as well.
What’s in It for Land Trusts?
Conservation easements are equally as beneficial for land trusts as they are for private property owners. First, conservation easements give land trusts access to far more land that can be conserved than they would if forced to rely on purchasing land for conservation or private donations.
While donating land may be an option available only to a select few, virtually any landowner can agree to a conservation easement because, as mentioned above, it does not impact the owner’s rights to continue to live and operate on the land.
Second, conservation easements are much more affordable than the outright purchase of land. Land trusts typically rely on a mix of grants, government funds, and public donations to come up with the funds to purchase conservation easements, which means that their funds are not unlimited.
While purchasing property outright will often be extraordinarily expensive, providing funds in exchange for a conservation easement does not require the land trust to pay the owner for the full value of the land. Rather, the money paid is just the measure of lost value that occurs when a conservation easement is placed on the land. In more rural locations, this amount may be very insignificant where it would likely be much higher near bigger cities.
Evaluating Whether Your Land Might Be Eligible for a Conservation Easement in Washington
If you are concerned about maintaining the integrity of your land down the road and avoiding the possibility of future development, you may want to consider whether a conservation easement would be beneficial. Conservation easements are typically applied to land that has valuable natural resources (including simply being an important natural space) and that are at risk for the possibility of future development.
If this applies in your situation, you should talk with a real estate attorney about possible options in your community for conservation easements and what type of terms might apply. While private landowners do have flexibility in their conservation easement agreements, most land trusts will have basic terms that must apply in order to fulfill their conservation goals.
At Blado Kiger Bolan, P.S., our real estate attorneys can sit down with you to discuss your conservation interests and whether a conservation easement might fit your needs. If an easement seems like a good path forward, they can also work with you to draft a comprehensive conservation easement agreement. Contact us online or at (253) 272-2997.