Colorado land conservation strategies

Colorado's intermountain marshes provide critical habitat for hundreds of wildlife species. Unfortunately, half of Colorado's wetlands have been destroyed during the last 200 years, and populations of many ducks and other birds have declined. As Colorado's human population grows, water and other critical natural resources will become increasingly scarce, leaving less for wildlife.

Ducks Unlimited is dedicated to the conservation of waterfowl, wetlands and other wildlife. DU uses a number of tools in Colorado to secure the best habitats, recognizing that most of the land will remain in private ownership.

Land conservation easements

Private landowners control most of the United State's wetlands and grasslands. Land conservation easements are a way to secure critical waterfowl habitat on a perpetual basis, while keeping land in the control of private landowners. Conservation easements offer landowners a way to continue to use the property while protecting valuable natural assets for future generations. Most conservation easements are perpetual and therefore obligate all future landowners to abide by the terms of the easement. What is a conservation easement?

Landowners may elect to donate all or part of the rights encumbered by a conservation easement. Donated conservation easements are usually "custom designed" to suit the needs of the landowner. The state of Colorado offers substantial tax benefits for donating conservation easements. Depending on individual circumstances, donated conservation easements may allow owners to reduce estate, income and property taxes. Landowner benefits

For DU to consider a property for a conservation easement, the land must have a significant conservation value related to DU's mission. How does it work?

Fee title acquisitions using a revolving fund

DU also accepts fee title donations of property. Once under DU ownership, wetlands and grasslands will be restored, and the property will be protected for perpetuity through easements. DU may then sell the property to a private landowner or public agency, enabling DU to preserve more land.

Protecting water rights

DU also works to secure water rights. Water rights have become a major commodity in Colorado, as urban areas seek water to meet their growing needs. Purchasing water rights is now very expensive. However, when possible, DU does include the rights in conservation easements to protect this resource so vital to waterfowl in Colorado.

 If you are interested in conserving land and water in Colorado, contact Jennifer Christman at (303) 369-5180.

What is a conservation easement?

A conservation easement is a legal agreement that restricts the type and amount of development and activities that may take place on a property. In some cases, DU tailors the easement to meet the needs and interests of the landowner. In other cases, easements are used that contain a standard set of restrictions. Under an easement, landowners still own the land and maintain the right to control access by the public. Easements held by DU usually allow compatible agricultural, recreational and other uses. In cases where development values are very high, the presence of the conservation easement can make transfers to future generations more affordable, because the easement reduces the value of the property to a non-development value, lowering potential estate and property taxes.

(Information from DU brochure Conservation Easements: Protection in Perpetuity, prepared by David Marrone, December 2005)

Donated conservation easements

A landowner may receive an estate or income tax benefit for donating a conservation easement. Landowners may use the value of the restrictions placed on the property (e.g., development value) as a tax deduction for up to six years following the recording of the easement.

How does it work?

1) A landowner wishing to donate a conservation easement to Ducks Unlimited should contact the nearest Ducks Unlimited office. If you are interested in donating a conservation easement in Colorado, contact Jennifer Christman at (303) 369-5180.

2) When a property is determined to be of interest to Ducks Unlimited, a biologist will conduct a site visit to assess the condition and value of the property as wildlife habitat.  

3) If the property has resources and the natural values important to Ducks Unlimited's mission, the terms of the conservation easement will be negotiated and the remaining requirements completed.

4) A landowner should work with his or her tax advisor to determine any financial benefits they might receive. In the case of donated easements, Ducks Unlimited will ask donors to provide a tax-deductible cash donation to the Ducks Unlimited/Wetlands America Trust endowment fund to help provide for monitoring of the easement in perpetuity.

5) The non-adversarial nature of the conservation easement transaction ensures that both Ducks Unlimited and the landowner are satisfied with all of the easement's terms and confident that the protection of the natural resources will be there in perpetuity.

Landowner benefits 

As part of the partnership established with Ducks Unlimited/ Wetlands America Trust, through the donation of a conservation easement, the landowner receives:

1) Assistance from Ducks Unlimited in land management to ensure protection of the natural resources.

2) The possibility of a federal tax deduction of the value of the easement up to 30 percent of adjusted gross income (as a charitable donation): a carry over of the unused deduction for five years and the additional possibility of reductions of estate taxes. Adjustments to local taxes may accrue in some states. While landowners may have financial incentives for donating conservation easements, the protection of wildlife and other natural values should be the primary motivation for entering such an agreement.

3) A perpetual obligation from Ducks Unlimited to ensure the conservation of the rights donated in the easement.

(Information from DU brochure Conservation Easements: Protection in Perpetuity, prepared by David Marrone, December 2005)