Conservation Easements


An agricultural conservation easement is a private land transaction initiated by and fully controlled by farmers. In essence, the farmer proposes to sell the rights to develop their land and to transfer those rights to a land trust. The land trust holds the development rights and ensures the land is never turned into industrial warehouses, a housing subdivision, or any other development. The benefits of the easement are multiple: farmers are compensated for the value of their land’s development rights but continue to own the land and farm it as best they see fit; property taxes are reduced; the community, which typically purchases the development rights through tax dollars or private donations, benefits from the permanent preservation of open space and the enhancement of local food security; and the easement may also protect historical lands and buildings valued by the community.

A conservation easement guarantees that a piece of land will remain undeveloped in perpetuity. Without the knowledge of the option of an easement, developers typically pressure farmers and ranchers to sell their property at a high price so developers can put houses, businesses, or warehouses on the property. As a result, farmland tends to disappear because farmers’ children cannot afford to buy out the other children, and no young couple can afford to make a living on a farm and pay the mortgage on a million-dollar property. 


Some facts:

  • Easements are typically held by a land trust (see list below). 
  • The land trust can help landowners figure out a strategy, draw up the documents, and legally protect the land forever.
  • The land can be sold or bequeathed, but the easement remains in place for the new owner.
  • The landowner decides what the nature of the conservation easement will be and what restrictions will be in place. The land remains private and is not open to the public. 


Sources of Funds for a Conservation Easement:

  • Federal, state, county, and city governments have money that a landowner can apply for; these are generally matching funds. 
    • Natural Resources Conservation Service has grants to help pay for conservation easements.
    • The State of Utah has set up the LeRay McAllister Working Farm and Ranch Fund (
    • Counties in Utah must hold back 20% of the rollback property taxes to be used specifically for funding projects such as Open Space and Agriculture Land Easements.
    • Cities or counties can issue bonds to help pay for conservation easements. 
  • Some land trusts have money to help with a conservation easement. 
  • Individual donors who want their communities to have open and green space can provide tax deductible donations.
  • The landowner may elect to contribute part of the value of the land. This donation is not in money but in value of the land. For example if the land is worth $100,000 the owner might donate $10,000 of the value, so that only $90,000 of funds are raised from other sources. The owner can take significant tax benefits from any donation.


Sample funding chart: 


Land Trusts in Utah 

Utah Open Lands

Utah Agricultural Land Trust

Nature Conservancy


For More Information