Want to protect your unique corner of Jefferson County for generations to come? Find out how!
A conservation easement is one tool land trusts use to protect land. Donating or selling a conservation easement on your land is an effective and practical way to share the beauty of wild places with future generations, keep farmland in production and protect important wildlife habitat from development. When you protect your land, or even just a portion of it through a conservation easement, you can continue living on it and generating income throughout your life, and you may also reap the benefit of lower income taxes and estate taxes.
Doing nothing to protect your land, however, leaves it vulnerable to development. Why? With federal estate taxes as high as 55% of a property’s fair market value, heirs may be forced to sell the land just to pay the tax bill. And of course, future owners may be compelled by ever-increasing property values — or simply a lack of appreciation for the land — to sell it for development.
Jefferson Land Trust helps landowners protect their land forever, through conservation easements, outright gifts of land or other arrangements.
A conservation easement is a voluntary legal agreement between a landowner and a protecting organization, like a land trust, that permanently protects land while the landowner continues to own it. Conservation easements are most often donated to non-profit nature conservancy organizations, such as Jefferson Land Trust, or to a governmental agency.
A conservation easement places restrictions on how a parcel of land can be used. This creates a permanent safeguard against your land being used in a way that could damage or destroy its ecological, scenic, recreational or resource value. Jefferson Land Trust is legally bound to uphold these restrictions, ensuring the special characteristics of your land are preserved forever. Characteristics we protect include rich farm soils and timberland, critical wildlife habitat, and forests and wetlands that provide clean air and water and scenic and recreational open spaces.
Every conservation easement is tailored to the particular needs and wishes of the landowner, the natural characteristics of the land and the conservation objectives of Jefferson Land Trust. Therefore, the land must meet certain criteria for it to be considered for protection.
Jefferson Land Trust takes its stewardship role seriously. Once we accept a conservation easement, we must protect that land forever, “in perpetuity”. This requires a significant commitment of financial and human resources, but it is a promise that can never be ignored or broken. Therefore, the members of Jefferson Land Trust’s Board of Directors must carefully evaluate whether a proposed conservation easement meets our conservation goals and whether we have the resources and capacity to protect the land over the long term.
Our conservation goals are broad enough to include many different kinds of lands, but they must meet certain criteria. In order for a parcel of land to qualify for a conservation easement, it must have one or more of the following characteristics:
In addition to satisfying the above criteria, we must be confident that we can adequately steward every property or conservation easement we accept. Some important questions we ask include:
Under Washington State law (RCW 64.04.130), a conservation easement may be held by a non-profit nature conservancy corporation or by a federal, state or local government.
Jefferson Land Trust, which was incorporated by local residents in 1989, meets all of the qualifications of this Washington law, as well as those imposed by federal law, to qualify as a tax-exempt charitable institution under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.
No. Only if you specify public access as a permitted use of the land.
A landowner may allow limited access to their land for educational or scientific purposes, but public access is not required by Jefferson Land Trust as a condition of accepting a conservation easement. However, the Land Trust is obligated to visit the site every year to assure the terms of the conservation easement are being honored.
Yes. Land protected by a conservation easement may be sold, bequeathed or otherwise transferred at any time. However, transferring ownership will not affect the integrity or enforcement of the conservation easement. The restrictions defined in the conservation easement are tied to the land title forever.
Since an easement may only apply to certain portions of a property, for example, to preserving open or wooded areas, the rest of the land can be developed. Ownership of the portion of land protected by the conservation easement may be divided for limited or cluster development if the granting landowner deems this appropriate.
When a conservation easement is created, a representative from Jefferson Land Trust, working with the landowner, takes photos of the property and conducts plant and wildlife inventories to provide a baseline for future monitoring. A Land Trust representative then makes annual visits to ensure the terms and conditions of the conservation easement are being complied with.
If a violation is identified, the landowner is promptly notified (in accordance with procedures outlined in the conservation easement) and steps must be taken to repair any damage. The easement outlines the process to be followed if there is a dispute regarding the alleged violation. If necessary, the Land Trust will take legal action to fulfill its obligations under the conservation easement.
Selling land to Jefferson Land Trust at less than its fair market value can make it both affordable for us and provide tax benefits for you.
Yes. Gifts to Jefferson Land Trust can help protect some of our area’s most beautiful lands while providing tax benefits to the donor. Below is a summary of tax-saving gift arrangements and ideas you may want to consider in your financial and estate plans.
Tax laws change. Professional financial counsel is essential since each donor’s tax situation is unique. You should consult your attorney or tax planner for more complete details.
Some of the information provided here was excerpted from The Conservation Easement Handbook: Managing Land Conservation and Historic Preservation Easement Programs, by Janet Diehl and Thomas S. Barrett.
Another excellent resource is Preserving Family Lands: A Landowner’s Introduction to Tax Issues and Other Considerations, by Stephen J. Small.
Both of these books are available from Jefferson Land Trust.
Title 84RCW 36.260-64 and WA458-16-290 (Revised Code of Washington) provide guidance on Washington property tax exemptions. Information about the public benefits rating system is available from Jefferson County, which reviews open space applications within the county. Find out if you qualify.
Since the transfer of property is a legal process, an attorney represents Jefferson Land Trust in these transactions. Donors must rely on their own attorneys, appraisers and tax specialists to ensure they receive personal and objective representation during negotiations and the appropriate benefit from the transfer.
For more information, please contact us. Your inquiry will be treated as confidential and without further obligation.