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What is a conservation easement?
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A conservation easement is a legal agreement between a voluntary landowner and a land trust or government agency. The agreement permanently restricts specific types of development in exchange for financial benefits. Agricultural conservation easements benefit our communities by permanently safeguarding agricultural lands. The farm or ranch remains in private ownership for agricultural and/or other permitted uses.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
The easement transfers some or all of the development rights from the landholder to a qualified nonprofit land trust or government agency (easement holder). The landholder and the easement holder create an agreement that supports agriculture, identifies current and future building sites, and meets legal standards. Easement values commonly range from 20% to 50% of the full property value. The terms of the easement are voluntary and recorded with the county in an easement deed. The county’s assessed value of the land, and thus property tax, may lower to reflect the reduced capacity to develop the land. Conservation easements are perpetual (forever) and remain with the land when it is sold, much like a utility or road easement.
Contact us if you are interested in discussing conservation easement options for your property.
What is mitigation?
Mitigation is a term that is used to describe offsets to the impacts of a project on natural resources, such as agricultural lands or wildlife habitat. Some examples of projects requiring mitigation are: expansion of a highway, construction of new roads, utilities infrastructure improvements, and housing and commercial developments.
A mitigation easement is a specific type of conservation easement that is used when a third party, such as a transportation agency, city, county, or private developer, must compensate for the destruction of agricultural land or wildlife habitat in order to complete a project.
The purpose of a mitigation easement is to ensure that the compensatory site, which is voluntarily provided by the landowner, in exchange for financial benefits, is permanently protected and will not be degraded by any subsequent landowner or holder of interest in the property.
Local jurisdictions, including the State of California and San Benito County, have recognized the importance of addressing the impacts of conversion of our unique and irreplaceable agricultural lands. The San Benito County General Plan recommends that prime agricultural lands be mitigated at a 1:1 ratio, via in-lieu fees or direct purchases of conservation easements on lands of equal agricultural value.
When mitigation is required for various types of projects in San Benito County, the San Benito Agricultural Land Trust can help to identify, select, and acquire conservation easements or fee-title on appropriate farmland or rangeland, as well as monitor or manage conserved land in perpetuity.
The San Benito Agricultural Land Trust strives to provide customized mitigation solutions by working with local entities and willing sellers to secure easements to meet the agricultural mitigation requirements established in a project’s environmental documents.
What is fee title?
In some circumstances, San Benito Agricultural Land Trust accepts full ownership of a property, such as the 520-acre Rancho Larios Open Space. This property was donated to SBALT by the County to ensure the long-term obligation that the land be conserved as part of the conditions that permitted the 140-home subdivision. Rancho Larios Open Space has an active cattle operation, wetlands, forests, and grasslands.
SBALT is scheduled to take ownership of the adjacent 540-acre Nyland property from its partner, the Trust for Public Land, in 2023. This land is also a working ranch.
Owning land is expensive for SBALT, but it provides us with the opportunity to understand first-hand the challenges that our easement landowners encounter in their agricultural operations. It also provides land to which we can bring our donors and the public. We do this through our monthly Ranch Days and other events on the land. Join our email list to be notified of opportunities to visit our properties.
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