Frequently Asked Questions
WHAT IS A LAND TRUST?
A land trust is a non-profit organization organized as a charitable entity under the laws of the United States and Colorado. Land trusts work with landowners to voluntarily conserve open lands located in the area the land trust serves. Land trusts in Colorado are located in communities across the State, and are run primarily by volunteer boards, a few of whom have the assistance of some paid staff. Land trusts work with their neighbors to help voluntarily conserve Colorado lands without government regulation.
HOW DOES A LAND TRUST CONSERVE LAND?
Land trusts use a variety of tools to accomplish voluntary land conservation, including the acquisition (by donation or by purchase) of conservation easements, deed restrictions, and fee title to land, development of management agreements, and strategic estate planning. Land trusts are experts at working with willing landowners to craft the result that works best for the landowner and their community on each individual transaction.
ARE LAND TRUSTS SUCCESSFUL?
There are 40 coalition member land trusts operating throughout Colorado - 30 local land trusts and 10 regional, state or national land trusts. Additionally we have 14 local government members who protect land using conservation easements. As of the end of 2006, these groups were responsible for the conservation of over 1,600,000 acres of special lands in the State of Colorado. Nationally, there are over 1,667 land trusts that have protected almost 11.89 million acres. Across the country, approximately 1 million people are members and financial supporters of land trusts, and more than 50,000 people are active volunteers.
WHAT KINDS OF LANDS DO LAND TRUSTS PROTECT?
Each land trust adopts specific priorities for the types of land it works to conserve; however, almost every land trust in Colorado prioritizes the conservation of agricultural lands and open space. Other examples of the types of land that Colorado land trusts generally work to conserve are: wildlife habitat, wetlands and riparian areas, river corridors, community separators, and watersheds.
WHY SHOULD I CONSIDER CONSERVING MY LAND?
Voluntarily working with a land trust to conserve your land may be the single most important lasting contribution you can make to future generations, because, as we all know they aren't making any more open land! In addition, depending upon each landowner's individual circumstances, there may be income tax benefits and estate tax benefits a landowner can reap if the landowner donates all or part of his or her land for conservation. Often, the placement of a conservation easement on a property works to allow the passing of that land from one generation to the next, by lowering the value of the land and thus lessening the amount of estate taxes due the government upon the death of a landowner. In Colorado, the donation of a perpetual conservation easement allows the donor to claim a state income tax credit up to $375,,000 of the value of the easement, and, under certain circumstances, the tax credit may allow for a cash refund or may be transferred to a third party.
WHAT IS A CONSERVATION EASEMENT?
A legal agreement between a landowner and a land trust or government agency that permanently restricts the uses of the land in order to protect its conservation values. A conservation easement allows you to continue to own and use your property and to sell it or pass it on to your heirs. Conservation easements do not require a landowner to grant public access across private property. In some cases, conservation easements allow some future development to occur on the property, depending upon the needs of the landowner; however all conservation easements involve the giving up of some rights associated with the land. Conservation easements are extremely flexible, and each is tailored specifically to the individual landowner and the landowner's family. Because of this flexibility and the tax benefits associated with the bargain sale of or donation of a conservation easement, they have become the most popular conservation tools of choice for landowners across the country. The land trust is responsible for making sure that the easement's terms are followed forever.
HOW DOES A LAND DONATION WORK?
Donating land to a land trust can further conservation in Colorado in many ways. A landowner may be able to continue to live on the land, or to receive a life income, or to receive favorable income tax treatment from a land donation. A land donation might be used to provide a passive open space parcel for educational or public access purposes, or it might be used to generate income for a local land trust by allowing the trust to re-sell the land with restrictions and use the revenue to conserve additional lands. Flexibility is the key, and land trusts work with landowners to find the right solutions to the landowner's needs.
WHAT IF I CANNOT AFFORD TO DONATE MY LAND OR A CONSERVATION EASEMENT?
Selling land or an easement to a land trust at less that its fair market value (a bargain sale) can make the purchase affordable for a land trust and provide tax benefits and some cash to the landowner. There are some limited sources of funds available to land trusts for such purchases, such as Great Outdoors Colorado Trust Fund monies. In addition, some land trusts, in some circumstances, can assist landowners with the costs associated with conserving their land, such as appraisal fees, legal fees, survey costs and the like.
DO I HAVE TO WORK WITH A PARTICULAR LAND TRUST TO CONSERVE MY LAND?
It is entirely up to the landowner to choose the entity he or she wishes to work with to conserve their land; however, local land trusts often are a good choice because of their knowledge of the local community, their closeness to the property and its owner, and the efficiency of having the conservation project monitored by a local entity. There are national or regional land trusts that work to conserve particular types of land (such as the American Farmland Trust or The Nature Conservancy), and a landowner might choose to work with such a land trust if the landowner's property matches the type of land the larger land trusts work to conserve. CCLT can assist landowners in contacting a land trust to discuss conservation.