Q: Is a Land Trust a government agency?
A: Land Trusts are not government agencies. A land trust is a private, non-profit corporation that works with landowners to help them conserve and maintain their family lands with voluntary conservation easements. Five Valleys Land Trust is a local organization that is guided by an all-volunteer board of western Montana residents.
Q: Does land with a conservation easement remain private property?
A: Yes. A landowner donating a conservation easement to a land trust retains full fee title ownership and only voluntarily limits some of the rights and uses of their land, like mining or commercial development. The land does not become government property and remains on the tax rolls.
Q: Does a conservation easement prohibit all future development?
A: No. Most conservation easements prohibit large-scale subdivision or development, mining and non-agricultural commercial and industrial uses that will negatively impact a property’s conservation values. However, a conservation easement does not prohibit all future development. They are intended to be flexible enough to allow for limited residential development. The details of the agreement are negotiated between the landowner and Five Valleys Land Trust and will depend on the character of the land and the conservation values the easement is designed to protect.
Q: Can I still work my land?
A: Yes. A typical conservation easement encourages continued use for agricultural production, grazing, timber harvesting and other uses consistent with the conservation intent of the easement.
Q: Is Five Valleys going to tell me what to do with my property?
A: No, Five Valleys is not in the land management business. We monitor conservation easements to ensure that the landowner is complying with the mutually agreed-upon terms of the easement. We expect that landowners will be good stewards of their land as part of their own property management.
Q: Do conservation easements require public access?
A: No. The term easement can be misleading. Conservation easements do not require public access. While a landowner may choose to allow public access, there is no obligation to do so. As is the Montana tradition, the landowner decides who is allowed on the land and when.
Q: Can land trust staff come on my land whenever they want?
A: No. Five Valleys’ stewardship staff set up an appointment with each landowner once a year to monitor the conservation easement. The time of the monitoring visit is mutually agreed upon by Five Valleys and the landowner.
Q: Can I sell my property if I put a conservation easement on it?
A: Yes, the landowner retains full ownership of their land. The property is sold with the conservation easement attached and the new landowner will be subject to the same restrictions as the landowner who initiated the easement. Many properties subject to Five Valleys conservation easements have sold in recent years.
Q: How long does a conservation easement last?
A: Most easements “run with the land,” binding the original owner and all subsequent owners to the easement’s restrictions in perpetuity. Only perpetual easements can qualify for income and estate tax benefits. The easement is recorded at the county records office so that all future owners will learn about the restrictions when they obtain title reports.
Q: Are there tax benefits to granting a conservation easement?
A: Easements that are permanent, donated by the landowner or granted by qualified bargain sale, and provide one or more conservation values for public benefit typically qualify for tax benefits offered by the federal government. The two main tax benefits associated with a donated conservation easement are potential reductions in income tax and estate tax liability. An independent appraisal of the value of the easement, conducted by a qualified appraiser, determines the extent of the possible tax benefits. The amount and type of actual benefit depends on a variety of factors, including the value of the donation, your income level and the total amount of your estate. You should consult with a financial advisor and/or an attorney to fully understand the tax implications.
Q: How is the value of a conservation easement determined?
A: Only a qualified real estate appraiser can determine the value of an easement donation for tax purposes. The appraiser will consider the property’s “before-easement” value on the open market – under current zoning – and its “after-easement” value with easement restrictions on it. The difference between these two figures is the value of the easement.
Q: Are there costs associated with donating a conservation easement?
A: Yes. We ask easement donors to share in costs associated with granting an easement to the extent that they are able. In cases where these costs create a barrier to conserving important lands, we work with landowners to secure alternate funding.
Q: Will my property taxes be affected?
A: No. Land subject to a conservation easement will continue to be taxed in the same way, thus preserving important local services paid by property taxes.