Sources of Conservation Funding

Program Description:

A conservation easement is a legal agreement between a landowner and a government agency or a non-profit conservation organization that places permanent limits on the future development of the property in order to protect the conservation values of the land. The easement may also specifically protect natural, scenic or historic features of the property.

Landowner Eligibility:

Individuals, land trusts, organizations, and partnerships may apply.

Land Eligibility:

Internal Revenue Code Section 170(h)(4)(A) defines conservation purposes as: (1) Preservation of land for outdoor recreational activities, (2) Protection of habitat for fish, wildlife, plants, or similar ecosystems, (3) Preservation of open space for the scenic enjoyment of the general public, and (4) Preservation of historically significant land area or a certified historic structure.

Size Requirements:

There is no specific size given for acceptance of a conservation easement, rather qualified conservation easement holders rely on conservation purpose. For the Virginia Outdoors Foundation, easements on properties less than 50 acres in size must contribute to or add to a designated conservation resource and provide a high level of protection for the identified conservation values of the property to be considered for acceptance.

Additional Information:

Each easement is unique. The easement terms are negotiated between the landowner and a public agency or a qualified conservation organization. Except for rights explicitly given up in the easement document, the landowner continues to own, use and control the land. The landowner can still decide who has access to the property and for what purpose, just as before. An easement does not require landowners to provide public access to their land.

An easement is a particularly useful tool for ensuring protection of the Piedmont's natural beauty because an easement lasts forever - it binds not only the current landowner, but also all subsequent owners of the property. Some public benefits of conservation easements include preserving wildlife habitat, conserving working farms and forests, ensuring clean and plentiful water, continuing Virginia's historic legacy, expanding recreational opportunities, restoring the Chesapeake Bay, and addressing climate change.

Cost-Share Information:

A donation of a conservation easement may provide for federal income tax deduction, Virginia state income tax credit, estate tax reduction, and reduced real estate taxes. The following provides an introduction to tax incentives of conservation easements for information purposes only. Consult with your own attorney and/or accountant for professional advice.

  1. Federal Income Tax Deduction - The gift of a conservation easement meets federal tax code requirements is considered a charitable deduction, and the vale of the easement can be deducted, within certain limits, from the donor's income. A qualified appraiser will calculate the value of the easement by assessing the value of the donor's land before the easement is given, then subtracting the value of the land after the easement is donated. - As of January 2010, the expanded tax benefit expired. The income tax deduction has reverted to 30% of gross adjusted income for all taxpayers, which may be used for a total of six years, unless the more favorable benefits are extended and made retroactive to the first of the year.
  2. Virginia State Income Tax Credit - When a landowner donates a conservation easement, he or she is eligible to receive a Virginia income tax credit of 40% of the value of the easement. The landowner may use the credit to offset taxes owed. If the credit is not fully used up in the year of the easement donation, it can be carried forward for an additional ten years. Furthermore, unused portions of the credit may be sold or transferred to other Virginia taxpayers.
  3. Estate Tax Reduction - Estate taxes can be as high as 55% of the value of the donor's estate. In many cases, a landowner's heirs must sell the property just in order to pay estate taxes. By donating an easement, landowners can reduce these taxes in two ways: (a) the estate will have been reduced by the value of the easement (smaller estate value means less -- or perhaps no -- estate tax due).(b) Secondly, the American Farm and Ranch Protection Act of 1997 allows heirs to exclude up to an additional 40% of the remaining value of their land from estate taxes (subject to a $500,000 cap).
  4. Reduced Real Estate Taxes - In counties where "use value" taxation is in place, land subject to an easement is automatically entitled to taxation at use value rates. In localities that do not have use value taxation, land under easement is required to be assessed without regard to the development value that has been extinguished by the easement. The amount of the credit claimed by a taxpayer in any one year may not exceed $100,000. A taxpayer entitled to a land preservation tax credit is allowed to transfer unused but otherwise allowable credit to another taxpayer. For easements valued at over one million dollars, verification of the conservation value of the donated real property interest by the Department of Conservation and Recreation (View LPC1 Schedule B Form - PDF) as required by 58.1-512(D)(3)(a) of the Code of Virginia must first occur before credits can be claimed.

Competitiveness:

Potential conservation easements are reviewed for many characteristics that will make up its conservation value. Conservation easement organizations will review and weigh these characteristics when deciding whether or not to select a project. If you are interested in the Virginia Outdoors Foundation to hold your easement, there are only certain times throughout the year that easements are brought before their decision board. In addition, the staff may only be able to process a certain quantity of easements before every meeting of the decision committee.

Payment Information:

Please review the cost-share benefits for conservation easements. In addition to the Federal, Estate, and Property tax benefits of donating a conservation easement, easement donors in Virginia have a significant state income tax benefit in the form of a state income tax credit.

Moreover, easement donors who have more credit than they can use may sell their tax credits to other taxpayers. This represents a significant incentive for land conservation in Virginia. The "Virginia Land Conservation Incentives Act of 1999," as amended, allows Virginia taxpayers who donate a conservation easement to claim a credit against their Virginia state income tax liability of 40% of the value of the donated easement.

For example, if your easement is valued at $500,000, the credit is $200,000. The amount of the credit used may not exceed the amount of state income tax otherwise due. Any portion of the credit that is not used up in the year the easement is donated can be carried over for an additional 10 years. If you owe $10,000 in state income tax the year you make the easement donation, the amount of credit you can use is limited to $10,000. If you have additional credit left over, you may continue to apply the credit against taxes due for 10 additional years. The amount of the credit claimed by a taxpayer in any one year may not exceed $50,000. If you pay more than $50,000 in state income tax per year, you can only claim $50,000 of credit each year.

A taxpayer entitled to a land preservation tax credit is allowed to transfer unused but otherwise allowable credit to another taxpayer.
If you have $200,000 in credits, but can use only $10,000 per year for 11 years to offset taxes due, you may sell the remaining $90,000 of credits to another taxpayer, subject to a 2% or $10,000 transfer fee.

Program Administrators:

Non-profits, land trusts, and the Virginia Outdoors Foundation. For more information, we suggest that you contact the Piedmont Environmental Council to discuss your conservation options. See a list of PEC's Land Conservation Staff.

 

 
 
 

The Piedmont Environmental Council has provided this program summary for informational purposes only, accuracy is not guaranteed. Please consult the program's representative or administrator for full project details and requirements and to inquire about the availability of funding.

Conservation Questions?

Our Land Conservation Staff work throughout the Piedmont.

Find the PEC staff person nearest you.

For general questions, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Free Easement Packet

Important information about conservation easements -- including a sample PEC Easement and guidelines on how to proceed with donating a easement.

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