Your Conservation Options
Have you ever looked out your window and wondered what will eventually become of the land you love? Your land is part of your legacy; something you cherish and share with family and friends now, and hope to leave for your children and future generations to enjoy.
But the future of most land is uncertain – unless you take steps to protect it.
At this very moment, development is quietly changing our landscape – transforming roadside glens into residential tracts, adding structures to once-pristine hilltops. Some of the development is inevitable, and sometimes it’s beneficial, accommodating the needs of our growing communities. But sometimes it adds up to loss of farmland, vital water resources, wild life habitat, places to enjoy the outdoors and unspoiled views.
The good news is that there are many ways to protect your land to benefit your family, your community, and the natural environment. Many of our region’s scenic and historic sites, hiking trails and working farms are protected because private landowners like you decided to take action.
Conservation Restriction (CR)
A Conservation Restriction (CR) provides a way to protect land from development in perpetuity. In some cases a landowner may decide to have their CR stipulate that the land be kept "forever wild" (i.e. protected not only from building but from any alteration whatsoever). More commonly, landowners use CRs to prevent building on the land, but allow for recreational trails, agricultural uses such as growing crops, pasturing livestock and maple sugaring, and for the harvesting of wood or timber under a forest management plan.
Agricultural Preservation Restriction (APR)
The Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources’ Agricultural Preservation Restriction (APR) also protects land from development in perpetuity, but with a slant toward requiring that it remain in active agricultural use. APRs offer a non-development alternative to farmers and other owners of "prime" and "state important" agricultural land who are faced with a decision regarding the future use and disposition of their farms.
The APR Program benefits farmers, state and local economies, consumers and the general populace in a number of important ways. Most important, an APR helps local farmers keep their family farms and reinvest in their land and operations. It also ensures affordable farmland is available to new farmers. FLT has assisted the APR program by facilitating 141 APRs of approximately 14,000 acres in our region.
Gifts of Conservation Restriction
Some landowners may wish to protect their land but also retain ownership of it. One option is to donate a Conservation Restriction (CR) or Agricultural Preservation Restriction (APR).
CRs and APRs are popular tools for land conservation because they allow owners to protect the natural beauty of their land, yet still keep it to hand down to family members or sell it at a later date. These restrictions allow land to remain privately owned, and remain on the tax rolls. The land may be sold, bequeathed or given to any party the owner chooses. The CR or APR stays with the property, even when ownership changes.
A Conservation Restriction permanently restricts certain development possibilities, and gives a private or public agency the right to monitor the property to make sure it stays undeveloped. Landowners who donate CRs are often eligible for federal income tax deductions. The value of the gift CR is determined by a professional appraiser.
Sales of Land or Conservation Restriction
Owners who want to conserve their property but can’t afford to give away the land or donate a restriction may be able to sell the land or a restriction on it.
Funds are limited for purchasing land and paying owners for restrictions. However, some state agencies and conservation groups have money set aside for such projects. State agencies have the largest acquisition budgets, but some towns and nonprofits also buy property. Typically, purchases are reserved for land with high conservation value. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has an active program of buying or accepting donated APRs on farmland.
In some cases, landowners will offer to sell their land below market value to make it affordable to the state, their town, or a conservation group. This is called a “bargain sale.” Bargain sales can offer significant tax advantages to the seller. When the land is sold to a conservation organization or public agency, the landowner may claim the difference between the sale price and the fair market value as a charitable contribution on his or her federal income tax return.
Gifts of Land
One of the most effective ways to protect your land permanently is to donate it to a private, nonprofit conservation organization, such as a land trust, or a public conservation agency.
If you want to make it available for public use, and want to be free of the responsibilities of ownership and management, this is an excellent choice.
Choosing the right organization requires careful consideration. Landowners may consider how they want the land used: Should the forest to be actively managed? Should it be open to hikers, hunters, or snowmobiling? Depending on the size of the property and its special features, a land trust or agency may be interested in accepting a gift of your land and the responsibility of caring for it.
Donating land brings certain tax benefits: It reduces your property tax burden, allows you to avoid capital gains taxes, and may be considered a charitable contribution. In some cases, landowners donate “trade land” -- a property to be sold to support land conservation work.
Outright donations of land or restrictions may be the simplest way to protect land. But in some cases, landowners may decide to defer a gift of land for personal or tax reasons.
One way to do this is by making a donation through your will. In this case there is no tax deduction but the gift would lower the estate value and may reduce inheritance taxes.
In other situations, landowners donate the land in stages, through gifts of separate parcels . In other cases they donate the land but retain the right to use it during their lifetime, a method commonly referred to as a “reserved life estate.”