Is a Conservation Easement Right for Your Land?

A closer look at conservation easement benefits and drawbacks

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By Quint Shambaugh, land advisor and principal at Pinion

Have you considered a conservation easement? Most ranchers, farmers and landowners are no stranger to the concept. And yet, it’s a tool that is often easily misunderstood or overlooked.

Recognizing the Intrinsic Beauty and Benefits of Land

I was reminded of the value of conservation easements on a recent trip to the picturesque city of Helena, Montana. My trip to this charming city was hosted by the warm hospitality of Mary Hollow, the Executive Director of the Prickly Pear Land Trust. The visit centered around the Harvest Moon event hosted by the Prickly Pear Land Trust, where I witnessed firsthand the dedication and pride that Montanans feel for their pristine lands.

“For farmers and ranchers, protecting key agricultural lands with conservation easements strengthens the natural resource base and thus the entire operation, but easements have generational transfer and great tax benefits too,” says Mary Hollow.

This visit to Helena was an important reminder of the profound importance of land trusts and conservation easements. The Harvest Moon Event, the community support behind Montana’s natural beauty, and the dedication of Mary Hollow and the Prickly Pear staff all served as reminders of the critical role we all play in preserving our planet’s treasures.

To get a clear picture for whether a conservation easement would be in your own best interest – I’ve outlined some important things to consider.

What is a Conservation Easement?: A Brief Overview

A conservation easement is a voluntary legal agreement between a landowner and the government or a qualified conservation organization, designed to permanently protect the conservation values of the land. While each agreement is unique, most terms usually include:

  • Limitations on property subdivision and development
  • Protection of the property’s natural resources
  • A set of restrictions identified by the owners and easement holder

Landowners retain ownership of the land, can continue agricultural activities, and can sell the property or pass it down to heirs as they please.

5 Benefits of Conservation Easements

Conservation easements provide landowners with tax incentives and the satisfaction of protecting their land’s natural and ecological values for future generations, allowing them to:

  1. Preserve the land for future generations.

Landowners play a crucial role in safeguarding the natural beauty of our planet. Conservation easements allow them to voluntarily restrict certain land uses, ensuring that their property remains ecologically intact and significant for generations to come. This collaborative effort between landowners and land trusts is vital for preserving pristine landscapes.

  1. Protect agricultural heritage.

The U.S. is renowned for its rich agricultural heritage but we are losing agricultural land to development at alarming rates (1.8 million acres per year). This is where land trusts shine. By working closely with landowners, these organizations work with families or individuals to help protect vital farmlands from development while offering landowners viable alternatives to selling their land for non-agricultural purposes. The result? The preservation of agricultural traditions and landscapes.

  1. Maintain biodiversity and open spaces.

Conservation easements also play a pivotal role in safeguarding biodiversity and open spaces. By conserving critical habitats and preventing urban sprawl, these agreements ensure that native wildlife continues to thrive, and that people can enjoy the natural beauty of America’s open landscapes.

  1. Potentially reduce property taxes.

For landowners, there are financial incentives to consider when partnering with land trusts. Conservation easements can lead to reduced property taxes and potential federal income tax deductions. These benefits not only help landowners but also encourage them to actively participate in conservation efforts.

  1. Foster community engagement.

Land trusts like Prickly Pear actively engage with local communities, fostering a sense of stewardship and environmental responsibility. They provide opportunities for individuals to connect with the land, participate in conservation projects, and join events that celebrate and build on the strength of a community.

Assessing Conservation Viability:  Questions to Consider

Like any tool in your belt, conservation easements are best suited for those who first want to see their land remain intact and void of further subdivision and development. They are meant for a specific job and are not suited for every situation. As you consider a conservation easement or a land trust, ask yourself – and your tax advisor – these questions:

  • Do you meet the legal requirements?
  • Has a land trust assessed your property for a conservation easement?
  • What are the tax implications?
  • Are there alternative ways to protect your land?
  • How will it affect your property and long-term property goals?
  • What rights are you willing to relinquish?

To understand if a land trust or conservation easement is in your best interest, connect with a specialized conservation land advisor to talk through your goals and plans. 


Pinion provides advisory around solar, wind, conservation revenue, and revenue streams for landowners. This includes wetland and habitat banks, mineral development, geothermal, carbon markets, Farm Bill grants, and conservation easements.


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