A conservation easement (CE) is a legal agreement between Somerset Woods Trustees (SWT) and a landowner that permanently limits some uses of the land and protects stated conservation values.
Properties protected by easements may reduce property taxes, may reduce estate taxes upon transfer to heirs, and, if gifted or bargain-sold, may qualify for a charitable Federal tax deduction. Easements often extinguish or significantly reduce the development rights on a property while permitting income producing uses such as sustainable forestry and farming and most recreational activities. In order to accept an easement SWT ensures that the property qualifies under IRS regulations. CE properties must provide public benefits such as open space, scenic vistas, historic resources, protected animal or flora habitat and/or recreational resources. Granting the public access is not required but may be desirable in certain areas.
Easements are individually drafted to satisfy the needs of the landowner and SWT. Some development may be permitted but often the location of any proposed development must be within an agreed upon building envelope or subdivided from the protected parcel. SWT agrees to annually monitor the land into perpetuity for compliance. Most infractions are easily brought into compliance but legal action may (rarely) be required.
Easements are usually donated or occasionally purchased by SWT. A modest donation to assist towards SWT's stewardship expenses and legal responsibilities is often required. The value of the easement is typically determined by a professional appraiser. A survey of the easement area is usually required.