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The Role of Conservation Easements in Florida's Land Preservation Efforts

Florida is host to 81 distinct naturally occurring plant and animal communities, home to over 4,700 species of plants, and 25,000 square miles of forests.  There are over 500 species of birds that make Florida their year-round residence, more than 700 terrestrial animals, and over 200 types of freshwater fish, along with numerous terrestrial insects and other invertebrates.  If we are to enjoy Florida wildlife for years to come, we must help protect it from irreparable damage. 

Protecting and preserving the land is known as land conservation.  Landowners who want to make sure that their land is used in ways they approve of in the future can use legal agreements to conserve their land.  The most popular way to protect your land is with a conservation easement.

Land Conservation Strategies in Florida

Along with a conservation easement, there are a few other land conservation options that are available.  One is a fee simple conveyance in which a landowner gives up all rights to the land either by selling or donating it.  In this type of strategy, the landowner usually transfers the property to a land trust or a similar entity that will maintain proper stewardship of the land.

Another option is a bargain sale.  This involves selling the property to a land trust for less than it’s worth.  The seller gets the selling price along with a tax deduction for the difference in value.

Definition and Purpose of Easements

A conservation easement is a legal agreement between a landowner and a land trust, government agency, or other entity that maintains land for agricultural and/or natural uses to protect the owner's agricultural and/or conservation interests.  Each conservation easement is designed to consider both the landowner's needs and the conservation objectives. 

Many conservation easements are designed to allow for continued farming activities, hunting, fishing, and other recreational uses.  Most conservation easements are perpetual, so any land use restrictions remain if the land is sold or passed on to heirs. Typically, these future development rights are restricted and are recorded on the deed.

Benefits of Conservation Easements

In addition to the continued use of the land for certain activities mentioned above, there are some important benefits to consider.  Perhaps the most important aspect of a conservation easement is that of protecting the land from encroaching development.  It can also safeguard historically or culturally significant structures on your property.  Other possible perks include estate tax benefits and property tax benefits, as well as federal tax benefits.

Types of Conservation Easements Available

There are five main types of conservation easements available to landowners.  These are:

Agricultural Easements

Agricultural easements allow landowners to protect farmland from development and other incompatible uses.  This type of easement preserves agricultural land for food production and supports rural economies.

Wildlife Habitat Easements

This type of conservation easement protects vital habitats like endangered or threatened species and contributes to the well-being of the environment.  A wildlife habitat easement also helps to preserve biodiversity and support a healthy ecosystem.

Recreational Easements

A recreational easement grants public access to private lands for outdoor activities, such as hiking, bird watching, fishing, and nature photography.  This encourages people to get out and enjoy nature, which can lead to an appreciation for conservation and environmental stewardship.

Historic Preservation Easements

There are many historically significant properties in Florida and this type of easement helps safeguard these historic structures, landscapes, and archaeological sites.

Scenic Easements

Scenic easements help to maintain the aesthetic beauty of natural and cultural resources by preserving the visual quality of open spaces and landscapes.

Impact of Conservation Easements

While the full environmental impact may never be known, conservation easements protect land from future exploitation such as surface mining, toxic waste dumping, or subdivision for residential or commercial activities. 

While a conservation easement will not make you rich, there are some financial benefits that weren’t once available to landowners.  These can make it more viable for some property owners to consider conservation easements.

Is a Conservation Easement Right for You?

There is a lot to consider with creating a conservation easement and you will need someone to walk you through the process of determining your best interests.

I’m Rob Robinson.  I am a fifth-generation Floridian, and an avid outdoorsman, who loves everything about our great state.  For over three decades, I have been practicing law here in the Sunshine State.  Conservation easements can make it possible for individuals to pass property to their children and successive generations, as well as reduce their tax liability.  If you are considering a conservation easement, please contact my office.  I can help you create an easement that meets your current needs, protects the land for the future, and acts as a powerful estate planning tool to reduce taxes and even possibly provide income.

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