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Conservation Easements in Minnesota and Iowa

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

Conservation easements play an important role in Minnesota and Iowa as DU, through its Living Lakes Initiative, works to enhance, restore and protect shallow lakes, creating key stepping stones for migrating waterfowl traveling through Minnesota and Iowa. Increasingly, shallow lake shorelines are being developed due to the lack of available real estate around recreational lakes. These developments bring added pressures to the lake in the form of greater surface water use, shoreline habitat alteration and increased pressure to manage the lake as a recreational lake, all of which have negative impacts on migrating waterfowl and other wetland wildlife. DU is helping landowners permanently protect their shallow lake shorelines with conservation easements. Specific lakes in Minnesota are deemed priorities for protection.

What is a conservation easement?

A conservation easement permanently assures the conservation values of a property will be protected and potentially provides financial tax benefits to the landowner. Conservation easements held by DU in Minnesota primarily restrict development adjacent to shallow lakes and large migration marshes. Landowners who donate an easement still own the land and maintain the right to control access by the public.

A conservation easement is a legal agreement that permanently restricts the type and amount of development and activities that may take place on a property. In Minnesota, conservation easements primarily restrict development and protect existing grassland, wetland and shoreline habitats. In some cases, DU can tailor the easement to meet the needs and interests of the landowner. In other cases, conservation easements are used contingent upon a standard set of restrictions. Easements held by DU usually allow compatible agricultural, recreational and other uses. A conservation easement can provide a substantial tax deduction to a landowner and make transfers to future landowners more affordable by reducing potential estate and property taxes. For DU to consider a property for a conservation easement, the land must have a significant conservation value related to DU's mission.

Conservation easements offer landowners a way to continue to use the property while protecting valuable natural assets. Because they are perpetual, conservation easements obligate all future landowners to abide by the terms of the easement. Here are descriptions of the different kinds of easements DU uses to secure grasslands, wetlands, shorelines and open space for future generations.

Donated conservation easements

Landowners may elect to donate all or part of the rights encumbered by a conservation easement. Donated easements are usually custom designed to suit the needs of the landowner. Depending on individual circumstances, donated conservation easements may allow owners to reduce estate, income and property taxes (see 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.

Most importantly, a landowner assures that the conservation values of his or her shoreline property will be permanently protected, regardless if the land stays in the family or is sold.

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.

Purchased conservation easements

DU has limited funds to purchase conservation easements on critical shoreline tracts if a landowner is not in a position to make use of the tax benefits gained through a donated easement. In this process, DU purchases an easement for a percentage of the conservation easement value, called a bargain sale. The percentage used is negotiated between DU and the landowner. Under IRS tax law, the remainder of the conservation easement value can be used by the landowner as a tax deduction, explained above in donated conservation easements.

If you are interested in a conservation easement , contact the DU Living Lakes professionals in your state.

What is the process for putting a conservation easement on my property?

1) A landowner wishing to donate a conservation easement to DU should contact the nearest Ducks Unlimited office. If you are interested in donating a conservation easement in Minnesota or Iowa, contact the DU Living Lakes professionals in your state.

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

3) If the property has the resources and the natural values important to DU'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, DU 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

With the donation of a conservation easement, a landowner receives:

1) Professional assistance from DU 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 50 percent of adjusted gross income (as a charitable donation), a carry over of the unused deduction for 15 years and the possibility of reductions of estate taxes. Adjustments to local taxes may be possible 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) DU assumes a perpetual obligation to ensure the conservation of the rights donated in the easement.

Priority shallow lakes in Minnesota

DU is currently focusing on the following lakes in Minnesota for conservation easements. If you or someone you know owns property on one of these lakes, please have them contact a DU Living Lakes professional.

1) Lake Christina – Douglas County
2) Cedar Lake – Mcleod/Meeker Counties
3) Geneva Lake – Freeborn County
4) Bah Lake – Douglas County
5) Fish Lake - Stearns County
6) Pelican Lake - Wright County
7) Buffalo Lake – Waseca County

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