Federal and state laws place important restrictions on conservation easement donations. Additional restrictions apply to easements that qualify for income tax benefits. In general, an easement must meet at least one of the following four categories:
- property that provides significant natural habitat.
- property that preserves a scenic view that provides a significant benefit to the general public.
- property that preserves historically significant land or structures.
- property that is made available for public recreation or education activities.
Many easements meet two of these requirements by preserving both wildlife habitat and a scenic view that can be appreciated by the public from an adjacent public road.
Some examples of what will not qualify are instructive. Agricultural and forestry lands per se, do not qualify for tax benefits. Merely limiting the amount of development on a property will not qualify a property for an easement or for tax benefits. Farms, ranches, and ‘improved’ (nonnative) forests are eligible if other qualifying criteria such as scenic, historic, or wildlife habitat values are present. Such is often the case in Colorado, especially in ranchlands where the native prairie or other natural habitat has been preserved. With respect to federal regulations, historic value can only serve as a qualifier if there is a national certification involved. Agricultural and open space lands that lack other qualifying criteria, can qualify if they are part of a clearly delineated, land protection program authorized by a governmental body (typically, a county government).
Land Values Assessment Checklist
The following checklist outlines the preliminary criteria used by The Palmer Land Trust when initially deciding whether to participate in a property transaction or conservation easement negotiation. These considerations, however, neither insure nor limit the Land Trust's involvement. The Board of Trustees retains discretion over the acquisition process, and it may choose to deviate from these guidelines after careful review of a specific proposal.
Enhancing Values of a Property
- Expands and enhances existing or proposed public domain holdings
- Links significant public and/or private open space/natural areas
- Preserves or buffers natural areas containing:
- plant/animal species of unusual merit or special concern
- representative local plant and animal communities
- valuable wildlife habitat
- migration corridors
- Contains important historical, geological, archeological or local landmark features
- Protects scenic vistas or view corridors
- Permits existing agricultural practices to continue on land that would otherwise succumb to development pressures
- Provides needed urban open space or sets a precedent for open space values and protection in a developing area
- Offers educational or recreational opportunities to the public
- Does not exceed or adversely affect the financial and land management capabilities of the Palmer Land Trust
- Concurrent gift to The Palmer Land Trust Easement Stewardship Fund
Limiting Factors of a Property
- Few conservation/natural resource values remain intact on the property
- The presence of noxious weeds, hazardous materials, contaminants or refuse requiring containment, control or disposal
- Small size and conflicting adjacent land use
- Future development of adjacent properties which would diminish existing conservation values
- Difficult enforcement or management issues:
- physiographic dangers
- destructive trespass pressures
- multiple ownership tangles
- restrictive deed provisions
- potentially burdensome maintenance issues
- Distance from Palmer Land Trust's office in Colorado Springs
- Ethical or public image problems for the Land Trust associated with accepting the property