Q: What is a land trust?
A: Conservation easements are usually donated to private organizations called land trusts. A land trust is a nonprofit charitable organization that protects land for its natural, historic, or economic value. The land trust is responsible for visiting the property one or more times annually to make sure that the terms of the easement are upheld. The land trust may also support the landowner by providing expertise or assistance with management activities on the property. In order to take advantage of the tax benefits of donating a conservation easement, the donor must grant the easement to a public agency or conservation organization that qualifies as a public charity under IRS Code Section 501(c)(3). TLC is one of about 40 land trusts in the state of Texas who fall into this category.
Q: How is your organization different from other land trusts in Texas?
A: While many land trusts share the same basic goals, some work on specific geographic regions or specialty projects. TLC is one of the oldest and largest land trusts in the state, and one of the few that work statewide.
Q: What kind of properties qualify for a conservation easement?
A: Regardless of conservation method, any property conserved by TLC must have a clear conservation purpose and consequently result in public benefit (this does not mean that the land has to be open to public use). In general, TLC will consider conservation easements on land that meets one or more of the following conservation purposes, as defined by the Internal Revenue Code Section 170(h)(4)(A):
*The preservation of land areas for outdoor recreation by, or the education of, the general public;
*The protection of a relatively natural habitat of fish, wildlife, or plants, or similar ecosystem;
*The preservation of certain open space (including farmland and forest land); or
*The preservation of a historically important land area or a certified historic structure.
In general, a property must have significant natural resources and conservation value related to TLC’s mission to be considered for a conservation easement.
Q: Who owns the land that TLC preserves?
A: TLC owns 32 preserves, totalling just over 2,500 acres. We are a non-profit, 501(c)3 organization as defined by the IRS. Lands under conservation easements continue to be owned by the individual or institution, not TLC.
Q: How do you decide which projects to undertake?
A: Since we work statewide, we focus on projects that are ecologically representative of the eco-region which they are in. Of the ten distinct eco-regions in the state, we own property or hold easements in nine. We also place high priority on those properties with riparian areas and/or threatened or endangered species .
Q: Do Conservation Easements allow public access on my property?
A: Conservation easements do not require public access. They also do not change ownership or control of a property, prevent use or future sale of the property, or necessarily prohibit all future development of the property. If an easement donor does wish public access for educational or environmental recreation, the easement can be written to allow for this and TLC can help you facilitate these kinds of activities. We will never pressure you to allow public access for any reason.
Q: How long does an easement last?
A: Most conservation easements are permanent. A property under conservation easement may be sold or inherited, but future owners of the land must follow the terms of the easement. Only permanent conservation easements can confer tax benefits to the donor.
Q: What restrictions are contained in a conservation easement?
A: Each easement is tailored to fit the needs of the landowner/donor and the conservation goals of the easement holder (TLC). The only rule is that every easement must be consistent with all applicable laws. Typical restrictions eliminate commercial and industrial uses and mining and limit subdivision, roads, homes and other structures. An easement might prohibit all future development, or might allow a certain amount of development that will not damage the natural value, but help the owner gain economic benefit.
Q: Will a conservation easement result in the loss of my control over the management of my land?
A: Land use restrictions found in TLC's conservation easements put limitations on future development of the property in order to retain the land’s natural and scenic character. As the landowner, you give up some development and use rights, but reserve the rights you need to be able to farm, ranch, hunt, build a second home, etc. The terms of TLC's conservation easements are unique to each agreement and are designed to have minimal effect on the day-to-day management decisions of the landowner.
Q: Can an easement be changed?
A: The short answer is yes, but only under very specific circumstances and for very good reasons. The purpose of a conservation easement is to protect property in perpetuity. Forever is a long time, however, and there are circumstances when an easement may need to be amended because of an extraordinary circumstances. In such cases, the TLC Board of Directors must approve any proposed amendments. In general, an easement will only be amended if such a change will result in increased protection and conservation value of the property.
Q: After I donate an easement, what relationship do I have with TLC?
A: As the easement holder, TLC is responsible for the perpetual enforcement of the restrictions laid out in the easement document. The monitoring and enforcement of the terms of the easement are a cooperative effort between the owner and TLC. A member of our stewardship staff will pay you an annual visit during which he/she will tour the property and prepare a written report based on the current condition of the property. Usually, you would join our staff member on that property tour. Should a monitoring visit uncover a violation of the terms of the easement, TLC will follow its internal policies in order to work with you to correct the problem. Regular communication between the donor and TLC typically means that problems can be solved simply. Very rarely, TLC may take legal action to correct a violation.
Q: Does a conservation easement protect me from condemnation or eminent domain?
A: Unfortunately, no. A conservation easement cannot protect your land from a condemnation claim. Protecting your land for conservation, however, has proved a useful tool for landowners who wish to protest condemnation claims. Read more about your rights as a landowners in the Attorney General's Texas Landowner's Bill of Rights.
Q: If I donate an easement to TLC, will it ever be transferred to the government or another organization?
A: TLC is a private nonprofit corporation. We are not affiliated with the federal government, or any state or local government branch. In the unlikely event that TLC should cease to exist (something we protect against by maintaining a sizeable endowment), your easement would automatically transfer to another nonprofit organization that has experience with conservation easements.
Q: Where do you get your funding?
A: Like all non-profits, we depend on contributions for almost all of our funding. Most of our operational funding comes from individuals, foundations, and other non-profit organizations.
Q: Is there any cost to me in placing my property under conservation easement?
A: Yes. There are some costs accrued by the landowner in placing a Conservation Easement on a property. We will be happy to discuss these specifics with you any time; please check out our Easement Process page for each step in the process and whether there is a cost associated with it. The costs associated with a conservation easement do not profit our organization; they ensure that we are able to protect your land in partnership with you and long after you no longer own your land. A promise to protect land forever means we have to carefully steward our funding to ensure that we are a healthy, viable, organization in perpetuity.
Q: How much do you pay your Board of Directors?
A: Nothing. Our board, like most nonprofit boards, is entirely voluntary. In addition, 100% of Board Members donate financially and otherwise to TLC. We are fortunate to have a dedicated board with a broad range of expertise in legal, financial, education, art, and business backgrounds.
Q: How can I help?
A: Our work is only possible because of support from people like you. Donations and volunteers are critical to TLC's success. Go to our get involved page to learn more about ways you can connect with TLC.
Q: What will you do with my contribution?
A: Individual contributions provide critical support for things like the transaction costs associated with land protection, the substantial costs of managing our nature preserves, conservation planning efforts and much more. We take pride in keeping our administrative costs low so that contributions have a direct impact on our conservation mission.
Have another question? Please contact us!