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"Conservation is a state of harmony between men and land." - Aldo Leopold

The Aplomado Falcon inhabits areas of open grassland, savanna, and shrub-steppe from tropical lowlands up to 12,000 feet. They feed predominately on birds and insects, searching for prey from a perch, then swooping down to catch it. Aplomado Falcons do not build their own nests, but use abandoned stick nests made by other birds. (Photo: The Peregrine Fund, Cal Sandfort)

Property owners are entitled to a set of rights, often referred to as a bundle of sticks, which can include development rights, water rights, mineral rights, or timber rights.  Selling or giving away certain rights while retaining others is like pulling a single stick out of the bundle.  A landowner may sell or give away the whole bundle of rights or just one or two of the bundle’s rights, through methods such as fee simple acquisition, conservation easements, purchase of development rights, leases, management agreements and mutual covenants.

Fee Simple Acquisition
Among the most straightforward means by which to protect family lands is through fee simple acquisition.  With fee simple acquisition, a landowner sells their rights, title and interest in the property to the buyer, who then owns and manages the land. Read More.

Conservation Easement
One of the most effective and popular tools for ensuring family lands are protected in perpetuity is the conservation easement.  A conservation easement is a legal agreement between a landowner and a land trust, identifying activities that are permitted and prohibited on the property, for the purpose of protecting the property’s conservation values in perpetuity. Read More.

Historic Preservation Easement
Similar to conservation easements, historic preservation easements are easements that aim to preserve historic or cultural properties, historic landscapes, battlefields, traditional cultural places, or archaeological sites. Historic preservation easements typically provide a stipulation as to how a property is to be maintained, what improvements are allowed, and require any changes to be approved by the agency holding the easement. The financial incentives for historic preservation easements are the same as for conservation easements.  However, to be eligible for tax benefits, the land must also be listed on the National Register of Historic Places or located in a registered historic district and certified by the Department of the Interior as being historically significant to that district.

Purchase of Development Rights
The purchase of development rights (PDR) is similar to a conservation easement in that development rights are stripped from the property.  It essentially involves selling one of the sticks in the landowner’s bundle of sticks. Read More.

Management Agreements
Management agreements are increasingly common for land protection measures on large, working farms and ranches.  Management agreements are entered into mutually between the landowner and the land trust and allow both parties to plan for the long-term protection of the property and its natural and cultural resources. Read More.

Mutual Covenants
The use of mutual covenants typically occurs in circumstances where several landowners mutually agree to protect certain conservation values on their collective properties.  A land trust is not necessarily involved in mutual covenants, although they can be helpful in providing assistance and advice. Mutual covenants are deed restrictions on each participating landowner’s property, which can be enforced by the other landowners.  Unlike conservation easements, covenants do not provide permanent land protection because they can be abolished by subsequent agreements of all participating landowners or by failure to enforce.  Furthermore, conservation easements benefit the general public and provide tax benefits, whereas mutual covenants typically only benefit the adjacent landowners and do not provide tax deductions.


There are several ways a landowner can implement land protection methods. Determining which approach is most suitable for a landowner will depend on numerous factors, including the family’s financial circumstances, estate and income tax issues, current and future use of the land, funding availability for the conservation buyer, and of course, time.

Fair Market Value Sale
A fair market value sale refers to the purchase price for a property or for the conservation easement on a property.  Generally speaking, market value refers to the price a buyer would be willing to pay and the price a seller would be willing to accept on the open market.  An appraisal determines the market value for the property.  Fair market value sales are often the most appealing to landowners because they receive full payment for their property while achieving their conservation goals.  However, tax benefits are not available for fair market value sales.   

While high land values may limit a land trust from acquiring a property or conservation easement through fair market value acquisition, it does occur often by local jurisdictions with open space bond programs.  In many counties with voter approved open space bond programs, paying fair market value is the most common way to permanently protect natural and cultural resources.

Bargain Sale
A bargain sale is the sale of a property to a qualified non-profit organization, such as a land trust, at a price well below the fair market value of the property.  The difference between the bargain sale price and fair market value is considered a charitable contribution from the landowner to the qualified non-profit organization, and therefore provides potential income and estate tax deductions for the landowner. Read More.

Installment Sale
A land trust may purchase a property over time using an installment sale, as opposed to acquiring a property with a lump sum payment.  Installment sales can be used in conjunction with any of the land protection methods or approaches discussed above.  Both the landowner and land trust benefit from installment sales because the landowner spreads income and taxable gain over a specified period of time, and the land trust is given additional time to raise the funding necessary to complete the purchase.

Donating the Land
Another way for a landowner to protect their property is with the outright donation of their land or a conservation easement to a land trust.  An outright gift of property to a private, non-profit, 501 (c) 3 conservation organization potentially offers the landowner maximum immediate tax benefits – the landowner may receive the full market value of the property as a charitable tax deduction, and can avoid the capital gains tax that would be due from a sale.