When the Holter family decided to conserve their cattle ranch for all time, they approached The Nature Conservancy about placing their land into a conservation easement.

A conservation easement is a popular and effective way for landowners to preserve the natural beauty of their property.  It is a legal agreement to restrict some of the uses or development that may take place on a property.  A conservation easement is perpetual (the restrictions remain in effect even though ownership changes).

Working together, the landowner and the land trust identify appropriate uses for the land and detail activities that should be prohibited.  Prior to preparing a conservation easement, the land trust conducts an evaluation of the property to detail activities that should be prohibited..and that’s one of the beauties of conservation easements, its flexibility.  The landowners can decide to protect one tree or their entire forest.  As the easement holder, the land trust prepares a plan for the stewardship of the property, implements any restoration and enhancement of the plan, and monitors the property to ensure that it is adequately protected.

Unlike land acquisition that can be controversial to local interests as well as potentially removing property from county tax rolls, conservation easements can become a tax benefit for the landowner as the easement may qualify as charitable deductions from state and federal income taxes.

As important, is the benefit to the community.  Many landowners decide to allow limited recreational access as part of the easement process.  Easements protect private property rights while protecting some of the public resources like water and wildlife.

I live in Klickitat County, Washington, and while there are only three known conservation easements here, the Holter Ranch example is significant.  In the quite conservative local paper, the Holter’s conservation easement was front page news, and it was reported as absolutely positive to both land and community.