Wildlife Conservation in Real Estate

Here’s a run-down to keep in your back pocket for your clients: Government Conservation Easements and how they work for your client. Knowledge is power, and a savvy Realtor has answers to even the most mundane questions.

So, What’s a Conservation Easement?

A conservation easement is just a set of restrictions and regulations that a landowner voluntarily imposes on his or her land for the purpose of conserving and protecting wildlife, habitat, historic structures or any other conservation-oriented goal. A notable example in Little Rock is the Quapaw Quarter, which features over 200 historic structures, all registered with the National Registrar of Historic Places. These homes and businesses have restrictions on major alterations to the structure, and the owners may qualify for tax credits for conserving the historical integrity of the building.

How Does a Landowner Grant an Easement?

Easements can be granted to a public agency (such as a state agency or the federal government) or a private organization. A rural landowner with wetlands or wildlife, often a farmer, for example, may approach the federal government and try to negotiate a conservation easement to protect the wildlife and wildlife habitat. If successful, the landowner is compensated on a per acre basis.

Who Controls the Land?

While the landowner still legally owns the property (whether conservation land or structure), the agency that is granted the easement becomes, in many respects, the de facto owner. In the case of conservation easements, for example, wildlife conservation agents will have access to the land to inspect the land, manage the property and in general further the conservation purposes of the easement. The landowner will likely be prevented from developing, farming or modifying the land.

Can the Landowner Negotiate Price?

The short answer is “yes”, though the government agency might not be as open to negotiation. However, on the state or local level, or if you’re working with a private or non-profit organization, you might have some room to negotiate. An easement may have favorable tax advantages to a land owner or financial incentives, so asking questions is a good tactic.