Conservation Easement Overview

Bradshaw-Pistole Easement

From the forested mountains of Garrett County to the shores of the Chesapeake Bay, Maryland has natural areas and scenic beauty rivaled by few states in the nation. You can play an important role in protecting Maryland's lands by agreeing to protect your land.

Your land matters to you and future generations. By protecting your land, you leave a natural legacy; you improve quality of life; conserve scenic views and wildlife habitat; ensure the future viability of farming and forestry; and preserve the rural character and natural beauty of communities all across Maryland. You can accomplish all of this without giving up ownership of the land you love.

You can continue to live on the property, farm the property, and sell it or pass it on to whomever you wish. You are also eligible for significant tax benefits that can help keep the land in your family and help you save on income, property and estate taxes.

You can protect your land through an agreement called a Deed of Conservation Easement. This is a legal agreement between a landowner and a land trust (like Maryland Environmental Trust), which restricts the future uses of the landowner's property. It applies to all future owners of the property. The agreement often limits such things as the amount of subdivision that is allowed on a property, or the number of houses that may be built. It does not grant public access to a property unless that is what the landowner wants. Deeds of Conservation Easement are tailored to fit a landowner's individual situation. The landowner and the land trust work together to finalize the terms of the agreement.

You may also choose to work with MET and nonprofit land trust to protect your land. In this case MET and the land trust work together to make sure your land is protected forever -- that the terms of the agreement are not broken.

The major benefits of our land protection program are:

  • Permanent protection of natural areas, farm and forest lands and historic property;
  • Long-term monitoring of the property under all future owners - the land is protected forever;
  • Potential Federal and State income tax deductions for the appraised value of the easement as a charitable gift;
  • Lower estate and inheritance taxes to reflect the reduced development potential of the property;
  • Prompt processing of easement agreements (typically within three to four months of the offer);
  • A 15-year state and local property tax exemption on the unimproved land.

Through a Deed of Conservation Easement, landowners can protect their property from development for future generations: for example, they can ensure that an agricultural property will remain a farm, that an historic estate will remain untouched by subdivision, or that a stream or stretch of Chesapeake Bay shoreline will remain forever wild.

Conservation Easement Donation Process

To get started, spend some time thinking about your long-term plans for your property. Consider what your goals are for protecting your property.

Maryland Environmental Trust accepts offers of conservation easements on a case-by case basis. Significant rural properties that contain agricultural, historic, natural, scenic, scientific, open space, or recreational values may be considered. Exceptional urban properties of all sizes, especially those that would provide public access, may be considered through our recently revised program policy. To find out if a MET conservation easement matches your goals and if your property is eligible for our program contact the Conservation Easement Planner for your county. MET often works with land trust partners in the easement process. All of our services are free.

These are the typical steps involved in the Conservation Easement process.

  1. Consideration of Easement- You should contact the MET Easement Planner for the county where your property is located to discuss the general easement process and MET guidelines. Consult with your family and your legal and tax advisors. After that, if you are interested in further exploring the possibility of donating an easement to MET, please complete and submit an Easement Application.

  2. Property visit-MET staff meets with the landowner, views and explores the property to record the natural and open space resources, structures and land use.

  3. MET staff researches the property for additional natural and other values that the easement will protect such as rare or endangered species habitat, important wildlife habitat, archeological sites, historic structures.

  4. Landowner and MET staff discuss the terms of the Deed of Conservation Easement. MET staff drafts the Deed of Conservation Easement based on landowner goals, property features, and MET policy.

  5. Landowner begins appraisal process (optional). For landowners who wish to take advantage of the federal tax benefits of conservation easements you must obtain an appraisal by a qualified appraiser. You may retain an appraiser at any point in the process. MET strongly encourages landowners to seek professional advice from a tax attorney or accountant if planning to claim the value of the conservation easement as a charitable donation for federal taxes. Please see Tax Benefits. Please also see MET Appraisal Policy.

  6. Landowner works with lenders to subordinate any existing liens (mortgages or deeds of trust) to the Conservation Easement. (Form is provided by MET).

  7. MET Staff presents the deed of easement to Board of Trustees for approval or rejection. MET Board Meeting Dates

  8. If approved - All parties sign the Deed of Conservation Easement.

  9. MET staff sends the Deed of Conservation Easement to Maryland Board of Public Works for ratification.

  10. MET staff records the Deed of Conservation Easement in the County Lands Records Office.

  11. MET staff gives copies of the recorded Deed of Conservation Easement to the landowner. The original copy is sent to Maryland State Archives.

  12. After the process is complete, you will be asked to consider a contribution to our Stewardship Fund. The responsibility of monitoring and stewardship of easement properties demands substantial commitment of time and resources. The Stewardship Fund was established by MET’s Board of Trustees to ensure that MET is able to meet its responsibilities and donor expectations as well as to keep the public’s trust in MET.

The conservation easement donation process can take anywhere from three months to a year depending on complexity. Please keep this in mind if you plan to take advantage of tax benefits this year. Except in extraordinary circumstances, landowners who wish to donate an easement to MET by the end of the year must contact MET by September 15th.

Dillon Award for Landowner Conservation

Photo of Alverta and Louise Dillon

The Dillon Award is given annually by the Maryland Environmental Trust to a landowner for outstanding conservation. This award is in honor of the spirit and legacy of the Dillon sisters of Garrett County.

Alverta and Louise Dillon, sisters and retired school teachers, donated a conservation easement and then bequeathed their entire Garrett County property to METt in 1984. Features of prominence and pride cited by Alverta and Louise are a pond for waterfowl, a substantial home built in 1928, a smokehouse, a barn, and a circa 1800 springhouse. The property is included in the Maryland Historical Trust's Historic Sites Survey.

Alverta and Louise were dedicated naturalists and enthusiastic about conservation and enhancement of the many resources found on their land. Their generous bequest is maintained as an endowment to support the activities and mission of MET, in accordance with the wishes of the Dillon family.