What is the Vermont Land Trust?
We are a private, non-profit land conservation organization that protects land important to the future of Vermont. We work with landowners—both individuals and families—and with municipalities, community groups, and state agencies to permanently protect the farms and forestland, recreational sites, and wildlife habitat that contribute to the rural character of Vermont and the vitality of our communities.
We are governed by a volunteer Board of Trustees and supported by more than 5,000 members. With our headquarters in Montpelier and five regional offices located in Bennington, Brattleboro, Richmond, St. Johnsbury, and Waitsfield, we work closely with communities across Vermont.
What does it mean to “conserve your land,” or “put your land in the land trust”?
These terms are used to describe how landowners act to permanently protect their land from development. When you conserve your land, you sign a legal document called a conservation easement and dedicate your property, forever, to being a part of Vermont’s rural, productive, and natural landscape.
Sometimes the act of conservation is also referred to as “conveying development rights,” as conservation easements restrict the future subdivision or residential development of land. Conservation easements also prohibit mining, commercial development, or other activities detrimental to the ecological, agricultural, or silvicultural values of a property.
When you conserve your property, you continue to own and manage your land, and pay property taxes to the town. You are free to sell or pass on your conserved land, though the easement will stay with the land. As the holder of the conservation easement, our role is to ensure the terms of the conservation easement are honored by all future owners of your property.
What are my options if I want to conserve my land?
There are a variety of options for individuals and families who want to conserve their land. These options include the sale or donation of a conservation easement, a gift of land, or a future bequest of land or a conservation easement. View our Conservation Options page for more detailed information.
We also work with municipalities and communities to conserve land that has significance to the public. Often we help a town acquire land for conservation and community uses, such as a town forest, public park, or swimming hole.
What kind of land does the Vermont Land Trust conserve?
We conserve working farms and high quality farmland, woodland, wildlife habitat, ecological resources, and places used by communities for education and recreation. Read more about Land We've Conserved.
We accept donations of conservation easements on Vermont properties that are at least 50 acres in size. Smaller parcels are considered for conservation where there are high quality resources or features especially worthy of perpetual protection.
We also conserve smaller parcels of land—such as sledding hills, swimming holes, ballfields, or town greens—that are important gathering places for a community.
Does the Vermont Land Trust buy conservation easements?
Yes. About forty percent of our conservation projects are the result of purchasing a conservation easement (some are purchases for less than full market value).
We seek funding to purchase conservation easements on properties which qualify for funding, such as farmland supporting commercial agricultural operations, special properties providing significant benefits to a community, and, on occasion, large tracts of commercial timberland.
Funds for these purchases often come from state agencies or organizations, such as the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, as well as from private foundations and generous donations of businesses and individuals who care about the future of land in Vermont.
The remainder of our projects are the result of easement donations.
What are the benefits of conserving my land?
The hundreds of families and individuals who have worked with us to conserve their land tell us that their greatest reward is the personal satisfaction and peace of mind that comes from knowing their land will remain forever a part of our state’s unique landscape.
Landowners who donate conservation easements or give their land to VLT also benefit from income and estate tax deductions. Conservation easement donations can offset capital gains taxes, reduce estate taxes, and help landowners achieve their philanthropic goals. Read more about tax implications.
For farmers or others who sell their development rights, conservation can help to reduce debt, enable the purchase of additional land, or facilitate the transfer of a family farm to the next generation.
What can I do with my land once it is conserved?
You can continue to own and use the land for a variety of purposes, including farming and forestry, recreation, and education. Conserved land can also support farmstands and the sale of value-added products, such as wool, cheese, or hand-crafted furniture.
Conserved land can be sold or passed on to family members. The conservation easement will “run with the land,” requiring future owners of the land to abide by the terms of the conservation easement.
Conservation easements are monitored by our Regional Stewardship Managers and Stewardship Foresters. These staff members visit conserved land once a year to answer questions and ensure that the terms of the conservation easement are understood and upheld. Our staff is also available to provide information if you have questions or ideas pertaining to use of your land. Learn more about our stewardship work.
Are all conserved lands open to public recreation?
Each conserved property is different. While some conserved land is publicly owned and open to everyone, other conserved properties are family farms or forestland that are not suited for public recreation or access.
Some privately owned conserved properties, however, do have trails or special features that have long been enjoyed by neighbors or the public. In those special cases, landowners have often included a provision in their easement to permit continued use of their land by the public.
Many conserved landowners do honor Vermont’s long-standing tradition of allowing neighbors or community members to enjoy land which is not “posted” for hiking or hunting. In this way, conserved land is like other privately owned land; landowners retain the right to permit or restrict access and recreationists should use the land respectfully and ask permission when it doubt.
Many properties in Vermont, however, have been conserved because of their important recreational attributes or their uses as gathering places for the community. Often these are swimming holes, town forests, town greens, or recreational trails which are owned by a town or community group which manages these sites for public use.
Does the Vermont Land Trust buy or own land?
On occasion, we will purchase a farm or significant parcel of land that is at imminent risk of development or that presents a unique opportunity. This is one way we help beginning farmers purchase farmland at an affordable price.
In these cases, we serve as an interim owner of land before transferring it—subject to a permanent conservation easement—to a new owner best suited to the long-term stewardship of the property. Read more about our Farmland Access Program.
We often receive gifts of land from generous landowners. These land gifts, which are sometimes the result of a bequest in a will, are an important source of support for our land conservation work. Read more about Gifts of Land.
There are a few special properties of which we are pleased to serve as an owner and steward. Through our ownership of these properties, we can demonstrate innovative land management practices in agriculture, forest management, biodiversity protection, and public recreation. Visit our Land We Own page.
Will conserving land reduce my property taxes?
A conservation easement generally reduces the value of property. This can result in a reduced property tax bill, if a town lister reduces the assessed value of a conserved property on a town’s grand list.
In practice, however, many listers have not adjusted their assessment of conserved properties. Some landowners choose to grieve their assessment, especially if they have an appraisal which substantiates the value of their conserved property.
Many conserved properties remain in the Vermont’s Use Value Appraisal Program, also known as “Current Use.” Productive farm and forestland enrolled in this state program is taxed at its “use value” as farm or forestland. The Current Use program provides substantial tax relief for Vermont landowners, including those who have conserved their land.
What happens to local property taxes when land is conserved?
In 2009, we asked Deb Brighton, VLT Board of Trustees member and legislative tax policy consultant, to answer this question by analyzing the short- and long-term impacts of land conservation on Vermont property taxes.
While the conservation of land in a community can lead to a reduction in the value of the grand list, she found that conservation has had little effect on local property taxes, for several reasons. Read the report Land Conservation and Property Taxes in Vermont.
Where does VLT’s funding for land conservation come from?
Funding for the purchase of conservation easements comes from a range of sources, including: public sources of conservation funding, charitable foundations, and private donations from individuals, families, and businesses that support our land conservation work.
A primary source of public funding is the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board. VHCB was established by the Vermont Legislature in 1987 to create affordable housing for Vermonters and to conserve Vermont’s farmland, historic properties, important natural areas and recreational lands.
We work with landowners to apply for grants from VHCB. These important grant funds are used to purchase conservation easements on private land and occasionally to facilitate municipal or state acquisition of land for community conservation uses.
Would it cost anything to conserve my land?
Yes, conserving your land will involve some costs.
If you are selling a conservation easement on your farmland or other eligible property, you will be responsible for covering the cost of your own legal and/or accounting advice. Additionally, you will be asked for a contribution towards the cost of the appraisal.
If you plan to donate a conservation easement, you can anticipate covering much of the costs of your own legal or tax advisers. If you wish to seek a charitable deduction for your conservation easement donation, you will also need to cover the cost of an appraisal.
Additionally, we do ask conservation easement donors to make a one-time contribution to help to cover the costs of our staff time spent directly on the project. Your charitable contribution also will establish a Stewardship Endowment for your property, which ensures our ability to support and uphold your conservation goals and the resources of your property in perpetuity.
If you cannot afford these costs, we may be able to work with you to identify other ways to cover our expenses associated with your conservation project.