When the protection of Vermont’s best resources—farmland, broad tracts of forestland, or places of great importance to a community—is at stake, we often seek funds to purchase a conservation easement, or occasionally a parcel of land, from a landowner. A conservation easement purchase enables a landowner to sell their development rights while retaining ownership and continued use of their farm or forestland.
We have used the purchase of conservation easements to protect hundreds of farms and large tracts of productive forestland.
We also work with communities to raise money to acquire and conserve important land, such as property used for town forests, parks, swimming holes, sledding hills and community gardens.
When kinds of land conservation projects are eligible for funding?
Most available funding for conservation easement purchases is directed towards the protection of productive farmland. Although, we often obtain financing for land conservation that benefits a community, and occasionally for large-scale forest parcels.
The sale of conservation easements on active farms and high quality parcels of farmland has helped more than 700 farmers in Vermont protect their land from development. Many farmers use the proceeds to invest in farm infrastructure, reduce debt, buy additional land, or expand their agricultural enterprise. The sale of a conservation easement is also a critical tool for new farmers purchasing a farm they could not otherwise afford, or for families financing the transfer of the farm to the next generation.
Conservation easements include provisions that protect the property’s natural and agricultural resources. For instance, a farmland easement will require the sustainable management of erodible soils and may ensure that the farm will be affordable to future farmers when the time comes to sell the land. Read more about farmland conservation.
Where does funding for conservation come from?
Funding for the purchase of conservation easements or the acquisition of land generally comes from several federal and state partners, including the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, the Freeman Foundation, and the federal Forest Legacy Program.
Town conservation funds are important sources for funding community projects. Occasionally VLT works with a municipality and residents to raise additional private donations needed to purchase a conservation easement on land important to the town.
The donations made by our many individual members are also important to support these conservation projects.
If I conserve my land does the public then have access to it?
In general, a conservation easement does not require a landowner to allow the public to recreate on their land. When the property includes a unique resource, such as frontage on a river, an easement may include special rights for the public to enjoy a trail or access a waterway for swimming or boating. However, when public financing is used to purchase a conservation easement, and there is an important recreational feature on the land, there may be requirements for some degree of public access.
How long does it take?
Due to the grant application process and the time involved with raising money for conservation easement purchases, it can take one to two years to complete a conservation project.
How is the amount of the sale determined?
The price of a conservation easement is determined through an independent appraisal process, which assesses the value of the property’s “development rights,” often described as a collection of activities a landowner could typically conduct on their land, such as residential development, subdivision or other commercial uses of land.
Want to learn more?
The process of conserving a farm, land important to a community, or a large tract of forestland begins with a phone call to the Vermont Land Trust. After discussing the opportunity, looking at maps, and visiting the property together, we can determine the next steps for the conservation of the property.