If you can't find an answer to your question, please contact your Regional Stewardship Manager
Stewardship: What Happens After You Sign a Conservation Easement?
Signing a conservation easement with the Vermont Land Trust is a cause for celebration – your land will remain forever a part of our state’s unique landscape.
It is also the beginning of your relationship with the stewardship staff of the Vermont Land Trust. You will receive a yearly visit from a Regional Stewardship Manager, our Stewards of the Land newsletter, and assistance in finding answers to your questions about your land. Our role is to help you.
What will a visit from a Regional Stewardship Manager be like?
At least once each year, your Regional Stewardship Manager will call you to set up a time to visit. The visit itself usually takes between a half-hour and an hour. The Regional Stewardship Manager will walk your land with you (if you choose to join him or her) and will ask how you are using your land and about your plans for the future.
He or she will also answer your questions about your conservation easement and discuss how the choices you make in using your land can help continue your conservation efforts. If you have made major changes, the Regional Stewardship Manager may take photographs, create maps, and update records.
What if I want help or have questions in between visits from the Regional Stewardship Manager?
Please call us any time. Our aim is to aid owners of conserved land by promptly answering questions and giving advice or referrals.
Who is my Regional Stewardship Manager? What do they know about farms and forests?
Regional Stewardship Managers each bring their own set of skills to the job. Many have work experience or other formal training in agriculture, forestry, or both, and some own their own forestland or farm.
The Regional Stewardship Manager’s role is to help you with the stewardship of your land—including working with your conservation easement—not to tell you how to use your land.
We also have two foresters on staff who do some annual visits and are always available to answer forestry related questions.
What happens if the Regional Stewardship Manager thinks I have not followed the provisions outlined in my conservation easement?
The Regional Stewardship Manager and other staff will work with you to address any problems that are discovered during the yearly check-in or at any other time. We can also tell you where you can get assistance outside of the Vermont Land Trust to help make any changes needed. Land conservation is a partnership between VLT and the landowner and we strive to find voluntary, cooperative solutions to easement compliance issues.
When should I call the Vermont Land Trust?
Call us anytime. Taking your calls is a regular part of our job. It is much better for us to answer a question early in your planning process than to be brought in mid-stream.
Some examples of when to call are: before you sell, transfer, or lease your conserved land to anyone, start a business on the property, change any special areas (such as an area with rare plants or animals), change a historic building or archeological site, do any logging without a plan approved by us (except for firewood for your own use), build outside the area set aside for building, or create or enlarge a pond.
Conservation easements vary and not all have the same rights. Your conservation easement and baseline documentation report are also good sources of information on when and why you need to call or write us. You can always call us if you are not certain.
What about houses?
Your conservation easement might designate an area in which you can remodel or enlarge your existing house without getting approval from the Vermont Land Trust. Check your conservation easement to see what it describes or give us a call and we will let you know what the conservation easement says. Your conservation easement has limits on the number of houses and their location, so please call us before making your plans and before you begin construction.
What is the “Current Use” or "Use Value" program?
The Use Value Appraisal program, also known as Current Use, is a contractual arrangement with the State that assesses taxes based on how the farmland and forestland are used rather than on their development potential. In general, land in the program must be at least 25 acres in size, not including your two-acre housesite. Forestland must have a forest management plan that has been approved by the county forester.
Land in the program is given the same tax assessment for all purposes: local taxes for municipal services, the statewide property tax for education funding, and any local tax for additional school spending beyond the State’s per-pupil grant.
Will my property taxes be reduced?
Some owners of conserved land are surprised when their property taxes are not reduced. Valuations on many conserved agricultural and forestlands have already been reduced by their enrollment in the Use Value Appraisal program (see above), so taxes are already as low as they will be.
We notify the Vermont State Property Valuation Office that your land is conserved and they notify the listers in your town. The listers are required to take into account what the easement does to the value of your land, but they may conclude that there is no reason to reduce the assessed value. Some landowners have been able to get the assessment on their property lowered by speaking with the listers or by appeal, but reductions are the exception, not the rule, and appeals require time, patience, and a fair bit of work on your part. See the state handbook on appealing assesments.
See also Property Tax Impacts of Conserved Land for an overview and Land Conservation and Property Taxes in Vermont (PDF) for a more detailed discussion of the impact of conservaiton on property taxes.
Do I need a forest management plan?
We encourage landowners to have a forest management plan, but they are required only if you plan to harvest trees for sale, including lumber, chips, firewood, or saw logs, or want to enroll your woodland in Current Use.
Your conservation easement probably allows logging, but only after one of our foresters, Pieter van Loon or Dan Kilborn, has approved a forest management plan for your land. Depending on what you plan to do, your forest management plan may be short or very detailed.
We recommend that you hire a consulting forester and talk to him or her in some detail about your plans before deciding whether to put together a plan on your own or to hire a forester to do it for you.
See here for more information that will give your forester some guidance on what needs to be in a VLT-approved plan. Please call Pieter at (802) 251-6008 or Dan at (802) 748-6089 if you have any questions about this or would like the names and numbers of foresters.
What if I want a business in my home or barn that is not agricultural or forestry?
Please call us. We usually approve businesses in the home with some limits on numbers of employees. Likewise, we generally approve businesses that use conserved land as long as the activities don't detract from the reasons we originally helped conserve your land. Some home businesses that we have approved are bed & breakfasts, weaving, knitting, home bakery, accounting services, and tool sales. Some out-of-home businesses that we have permitted on conserved land are the repair of farm equipment, sleigh rides, and small storage in existing buildings.
What am I supposed to do before l sell my land or give it to my children?
Please call us to tell us the names of the people buying your land, even if they are family, so that we can introduce ourselves. Also, if your conservation easement has an Affordability Option (also known as an Option to Purchase at Agricultural Value) or gives us a right-of-first-refusal, we ask that the buyer who has entered into a contract to purchase the land from you complete a simple form telling us about their proposed use of the property before we decide if we will give up our right to buy your land. If the buyer is a family member then you do not need to ask us to waive that right.
Isn’t the Vermont Land Trust a state agency?
No. VLT is a private non-profit corporation organized as a publicly supported charity to help conserve land for the future of Vermont.
Your land may have been conserved as a joint effort with VLT and the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets and/or the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board (which is a state-supported funding agency). If your conservation easement names either of these or any other co-holder with VLT, you don’t have to worry about also calling them regarding stewardship questions. We do all of that.
What else can the Conservation Stewardship department do for me?
We can help you answer any questions you have about how your conservation easement affects your land. We also can connect you with other resources related to land use issues and government programs for open space, agriculture, and forestry. While we don't know everything, we usually know a place where you can get a good answer or find other assistance.
What if I still have questions after reading all this?
We are glad to help and are available by phone, fax, mail, and e-mail. Visit our stewardship staff page.