Frequently Asked Questions

​What are conservation easements?

​Conservation easements are legal agreements granted by landowners to land trusts in order to protect their property—forever—from inappropriate development. Land trust staff work with property owners to identify the property’s conservation values and ensure that those values are protected in accordance with the landowner’s wishes.

​Why grant a conservation easement?

​Landowners grant conservation easements to preserve their land while retaining private ownership. By granting an easement, the owner is assured that the property’s conservation values are protected forever.

​What kind of property can be protected by easements?

​Conservation easements can protect forests, wetlands, habitats along rivers and streams, farms, agricultural and timber land, scenic areas, historic sites, and more.

​How restrictive are easements?

​Easements typically permit landowners to continue traditional uses of the land. For example, if the goal is to protect farmland, an easement may restrict subdivision and development while allowing for structures and activities necessary for agricultural operations. If the goal is to preserve a natural area, however, an easement may prohibit most activities that would alter the land’s present natural condition. In each instance, the landowner and land trust develop an easement that protects the property’s conservation values.

​Is public access required?

​Landowners choose whether to grant public access to their property. Public access is not required for easements that protect wildlife, plant habitats, or agricultural land. Easements created for recreation or educational purposes are required to provide some form of public access, such as hiking or fishing in specific locations or occasional guided tours.

​How long do easements last?

​Conservation easements are permanent and binding on all future landowners. Easements are recorded with property deeds at the county records office so that all future owners are aware of the restrictions.

​What are the land trust’s responsibilities?

​Oconee River Land Trust is responsible for enforcing the easement’s provisions. To do this, we typically monitor the property once a year to ensure that there are no problems. These visits also allow us to discuss any questions or plans that the landowner might have. If the easement has been violated, we may require that it be remedied and the property restored to its prior condition.

​How do I know if my land qualifies for a conservation easement?

​It begins with a phone call. Calling the staff at the Oconee River Land Trust provides the opportunity for you to tell us about your land and why you’re interested in a conservation easement. It is important to us that you view ORLT as an information resource. Based on that initial conversation, we can decide if a visit to your property is appropriate.

​What happens on the initial property visit?

​The initial property visit by ORLT staff is really a continuation of your first phone call. The landowner and ORLT staff tour the property and discuss the landowner’s plans. In particular, we focus on the land’s conservation features, how the land is currently being used, future plans for the land, and any concerns the landowner may have. If, at the end of this visit, the landowner wants to continue to pursue establishing a conservation easement, we develop a project summary for approval by the Oconee River Land Trust Board of Directors.

​What happens if the Board approves the project?

​If the Board agrees that the project meets ORLT criteria, a formal letter is prepared that includes a summary of the proposed easement, the expected fees, and the suggested Stewardship Donation. This letter also emphasizes the importance of landowners seeking their own legal and tax advice regarding the easement.

​What does it cost to establish a conservation easement?

​Project Fee: This one-time fee supports the preparation of the Baseline Documentation Report and Conservation Easement. It is based on the size and complexity of the easement.

Title Report Fee: This is the fee required for recording the conservation easement with the property deed at the county records office so that all future owners are aware of the restrictions.

Stewardship Contribution: This one-time contribution covers some of the costs of annual monitoring visits of the property, reviews of construction and other plans for improvements, reviews of farm and forestry management plans, and any legal defense of easement provisions.

In addition, landowners may need to obtain property surveys prior to establishing a conservation easement, and those who are seeking tax deductions must obtain a “qualified appraisal.”

​What if I change my mind?

​We recognize that establishing a conservation easement is a significant decision. With that in mind, ORLT staff maintain an ongoing dialogue to answer any concerns. We respect the landowner’s right to halt the process at any time prior to the easement being signed.