What is a Land Trust?
A Land Trust is a non-profit, charitable organization committed to the long-term conservation of environmental and/or cultural heritage. A Land Trust may own land itself, or it may enter into conservation covenants with property owners to protect or restore natural features on the owner’s land.
What is a Conservation Easement?
A Conservation Easement is a way for a landowner to permanently protect the natural value of their land while still retaining title to the land. It is a legal agreement between a landowner and a qualified land trust. Conservation Easements are tailor made to meet the needs of an individual landowner and can cover an entire parcel or portions of a property.
Conservation Easement Legislation can be found under articles 28 - 35 in the Alberta Land Stewardship Act. http://www.qp.alberta.ca/1266.cfm?page=A26P8.cfm&leg_type=Acts&isbncln=9780779742271
What are the restrictions?
Landowners and Land Trusts collaborate to draft conservation easements tailored to reflect both the landowner's desires and the need to conserve the natural features of the property. Conservation Easements typically restrict development and subdivision to the degree that is necessary to protect significant conservation values of the particular property. Some Conservation Easements include areas known as “exclusions” where development is allowed. These exclusion areas are typically where homes are located.
How long does a Conservation Easement last?
Most Conservation Easements are negotiated in perpetuity, binding the original owner and all subsequent owners to the Easement's restrictions. The Conservation Easements are registered on the applicable Title of Land.
Do I retain any property rights?
Yes, by granting a Conservation Easement on your property, you retain title to your land but are subject to the negotiated restrictions placed on your property. As a landowner, you are free to sell, gift or will your property, but the Conservation Easement binds future landowners to the same land use restrictions.
Are there any tax benefits?
(Source: The Ecological Gifts Program Handbook)
Outright gifting of land, or a partial interest in the land through a Conservation Easement, to a qualified Land Trust could result in tax benefits for the landowner. The tax benefits of providing a gift of land or an easement on capital property fall under regular charitable gifting rules under the Federal Income Tax Act. The tax benefits are normally in the form of a tax receipt.
The value of the tax receipt received is determined by a qualified appraiser, chosen by the donor or the recipient organization. In the case of a conservation easement, the value of the easement is based on the difference between what the land was worth before the easement was granted, and what it was worth after.
If the conservation easement or land gifted can be certified as 'ecologically sensitive,’ additional tax benefits may accrue through the federal Ecological Gifts (EcoGifts) Program. An EcoGift can be credited against up to 100% of the donor’s income in a given year; any unused portion of the credit can be carried forward up to ten years. Agricultural Conservation Easements do not qualify as EcoGifts but would be eligible for the regular charitable tax receipt. Capital gains realized for an EcoGift are tax exempt.
Provincial taxes may also be affected by the donation of land or a conservation easement. In Alberta, charitable gifts over the first $250 result in a tax refund, including the federal incentive, of approximately 50% of the value of the gift.
You are strongly advised to seek professional advice concerning your own tax situation.