Tools and Options for Land Protection

Tools and Options for Land Protection

Dialogue between landowners and their land trust partner will help determine which conservation options fit the situation in the most effective way. Some of the most common tools that land trusts employ are:

Conservation Easements

These are property interests that protect the land for either a certain period of years or forever. They can be placed on many kinds of properties compatible with conservation values – working lands such as farms and ranches; residential and recreational property; forests, prairies and open space, and more. And perhaps most importantly, the land remains in the hands of the owner, to continue their residence, recreation or work subject to the terms of the easement.
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When a landowner grants a conservation easement to a land trust, they are agreeing with the land trust that they will not perform activities on the property that are contrary to the conservation values of the land. Typical restrictions are against real estate development, forest clearcutting, and most commercial activity inconsistent with those values. A landowner can reserve some locations for existing and future buildings on the property for their residential, recreational or working land uses. Conservation easements can either be donated or sold to a land trust. And a landowner can sell their property too, subject to the terms of the easement.
The land trust becomes the “holder” of the easement, and with that status comes the responsibility of ensuring that the landowner is complying with the restrictions in the conservation easement. This obligation requires the land trust to steward the easement with regular monitoring, which can occur both in person and remotely, through high-resolution satellite or plane imagery, or drones. It is typically expected that the land trust will monitor the land at least once a year in some manner, to confirm that no damage, building violations or other actions contrary to the terms of the easement have occurred.
A land trust incurs costs as a result of holding the conservation easement. These include the costs of drafting the easement and other staff or third-party costs related to the real estate transaction. And the land trust has ongoing costs related to the annual monitoring of the easement. The cost aspects of an easement transaction are discussed further on the financial and tax page of this For Landowners section.


A landowner can also donate their property to a land trust. It can be donated immediately, or the landowner can create retain their ownership and possession for a number of years or for their lifetime, but with a legal promise to transfer the property to the land trust at that later point in time.

A wide variety of strategies and instruments are available to enable owners to realize their donative intent and their financial needs, and the landowner’s legal and financial advisor are typically involved in working through the best options along with the landowner and the land trust.

What do Land Trust Do

Conservation Practices

James River Basin Partnership - River Image

Sometimes a landowner may have no current interest in transferring any property interest to a land trust, but wants to engage in activities that help preserve and protect the natural resource value of a piece of land. Restoring streambanks; providing other forms of riparian protection, or engaging in sustainable agricultural or timbering practices may be at the top of a landowner’s priority list.

Land trusts can be very effective partners in these kinds of activities. They may engage in these activities, or help landowners find the partners and financial sources to accomplish protection or restoration that might otherwise be unavailable. And sometimes, such conservation practices can be an initial step that may later allow landowners to come to the conclusion that they want to permanently protect their land through a conservation easement or other mechanism.

The Missouri Land Trust Coalition (MLTC), an unincorporated association of land trusts and their partners across Missouri.

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