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What is a conservation easement?

On Behalf of | Oct 27, 2023 | Real Estate

A recent news story told of growing efforts to form a conservation easement in Montana’s Flathead County. In this blog post, we’ll take a quick look at what this means.

Flathead County easement

Commissioners for Flathead County recently voted to approve a conservation easement near Kalispell, in an area known as the Owen Sowerwine, taking its name from a respected conservationist who fought to protect it in the 1970s. The land sits along the banks of the Flathead and Stillwater rivers and is home to diverse wildlife and plants.

The area is popular with hikers and has been designated as an “Important Bird Area” by the Montana Audubon Society. However, the land is privately owned by the State School Trust.

For decades, conservation groups and local government have tried various means of protecting the area. The current plan involves purchasing an easement from the State School Trust. Proponents say this will provide schools with much-needed funds while also protecting the natural area for generations to come.

Conservation easements

An easement is a property interest owned by one party on land owned by another party. A typical example might involve a landowner who has the right of way to cross a neighbor’s property in order to access their own land.

Conservationists sometimes use easements to protect natural areas. In a fairly typical scenario, a land owner donates the easement to a land trust, which can protect it long after the owner has sold other parts of the property, or passed away.

The owner who sells or donates land for conservation purposes can choose to give over all their property rights — as they would when selling the property — or just some of those rights. If they choose the latter option, then the legal relationship is known as a conservation easement.

Learn more

Easements can be necessary and beneficial. In the case of conservation easements, they can be wonderful ways to protect natural resources.

However, easements also place important limitations on property rights that can carry on after the real estate is sold or transferred to other owners. The legal issues involved can be confusing, and can lead to disputes.