Conservation Easement Process and Costs

We work with each landowner to develop a conservation easement that is best for them and their family.

Family Photo

Conservation Easement Process

Initial Project Review
  • A Tall Timbers biologist will complete a preliminary site visit to assess conservation values of the property. The biologist is often looking for conservation features that can be used to justify the conservation easement, like the following
    1. relatively natural habitats that are functioning and being utilized in a natural way, such as intact wetlands or upland pines stands managed with frequent fire and selective timber harvesting.
    2. a diversity of wildlife and plant species that are present and utilizing the property.
    3. Open space qualities that supports direct or indirect public benefit as supported by public policy. For example, counties have comprehensive plans supporting rural land-uses such as silviculture or agriculture that directly benefits the local economy. Additionally, conservation easements can have scenic qualities along public roadways that provides indirect benefits of open space.
  • The initial site visit is often a great opportunity for an in-person meeting to discuss the conservation easement process.
  • After the visit, the biologist will submit a Project Selection Form to the Easement Review Committee (ERC). This subcommittee of the Board of Trustees is tasked with conducting a preliminary review all conservation projects to ensure the project is consistent with our conservation goals.
Once a Project is Selected
  • The biologist will return to the property to complete a more detailed conservation assessment and document current conditions of property at time of easement.
  • A Baseline  Documentation Report (BDR) is drafted and includes a detailed written description of property including soils, topography, hydrology, historical features, past land-uses, current land-uses, all infrastructure, a list wildlife and plants that are present on the Property, and all relatively natural habitats. Some high quality natural habitats may be designated as special natural areas, which are highlighted in the BDR.
    • Collectively, the conservation values detailed in the BDR make up the Conservation Purpose of a conservation easement.
  • The biologist will also draft a Conservation Management Plan (CMP) that will set the minimum management requirements necessary to maintain the property’s conservation values in a sustainable way. The requirements cover many types of management but often focus on forestry practices and groundcover disturbances, especially in the protection of special natural areas.Our management plans often allow for continued use of
    1. Row crop agriculture
    2. Planted pines and silviculture
    3. Pastures and livestock production
    4. Pecan orchards and vegetable production

    CMP requirements have the flexibility to be modified over time when approved by the landowner and Tall Timbers. This will allow the CMP to adapt as conditions and habitats change.

  • Drafts of the BDR and CMP are shared with the landowner and their consultants for their review, input and modification.
  • A Conservation Easement is drafted using the Tall Timbers conservation easement template. Often the development of the conservation easement is a collective effort between Tall Timbers, the landowner, and the landowners attorney
    • Drafts of Tall Timbers Conservation Easement and Conservation Management Plan, are available upon request
  • Tall Timbers Easement Review Committee (ERC) completes a full review of the BDR, CMP, and Conservation Easement drafts, from which results in a final set of documents. Based on the recommendation of the ERC, Tall Timbers Trustees give the final approval and the board chairman signs the documents.
  • The Landowner signs the final Conservation Easement and BDR
  • The Conservation Easement is publicly recorded at the County Clerk of Court (similar to any real estate deed).
    • The BDR and CMP are not publicly recorded. These documents are referenced in the recorded conservation easement and are enforceable documents but do not get recorded due to the detailed private information the BDR and the flexibility of the CMP to be modified.
  • You are now a Conservation Easement Landowner! Your involvement in Tall Timbers only improves as our conservation easement landowners have direct access to our biologists and staff to assist your land management. Landowner will have an opportunity to engage our biologists at least once a year as part of the Tall Timbers stewardship responsibility for the conservation easement.
conservation easement transaction documentation
    • Similar to any real estate transaction there is required documentation that ensures the landowner has the right to grant a conservation easement and exact location of the conservation easement is known.

Tall Timbers due diligence includes:

      1. Proof of ownership can be completed with a Title report with title insurance naming Tall Timbers as an insured under the policy. In Georgia, proof of ownership can also be substantiated with a letter of title opinion from a licensed attorney.
      2. Legal Description is necessary to describe the location of the Property, which will be publically recorded with the conservation easement. Often times, previous legal description can be used for the conservation easement if the conservation easement is the same as the property.
      3. Land Survey is not always required but is highly recommended. A Survey will be necessary if the conservation does not include the entire parcel or if no explicit legal description is available.
      4. Environmental Assessment is completed to determine if there are any obvious evidence of hazardous waste on the Property. Many times Tall Timbers can complete the preliminary assessment as part of the transaction. However, a more detailed Environmental Assessment will be needed if any evidence of hazardous waste is suspected.

Conservation Easement Appraisal

    • An appraisal of the donated conservation easement value is required if taking a federal tax deduction for the donation or pursuing the Georgia Conservation Tax Credit. The appraisal is often the most complicated and expensive part of the conservation easement transaction. Hiring an experienced appraiser familiar with conservation easements is critical.
      • Tall Timbers can provide a list of recommended appraisers upon request
    • Tall Timbers will review the appraisal to ensure the terms of the conservation easement are accurately represented in the appraisal and evaluate the appraised value before signing the IRS Tax Form 8283. Tall Timbers will not knowingly participate in projects where it has significant concerns regarding the appraised value of the conservation easement.
Conservation Easement Costs
  • Cost Recovery: Conservation easements can be involved and rigorous transactions that can require much staff time to complete. To help cover costs Tall Timbers asks the landowner to cover its operating costs, including 20% overhead for developing an easement, which includes inventory fieldwork, Baseline Documentation Report, Conservation Management Plan, legal review, photographs, maps, and mailings. Tall Timbers does its utmost to keep the costs low for the landowner.
    • Most donated conservation easements have a cost recovery of $2,000 – $6,000 but each project is different and cost can vary depending on the complexity of the transaction
  • Stewardship Fund: In order to cover the required annual monitoring costs plus build a fund to defend the easement. There is a one-time Stewardship Fund donation request of 1% of the value of the conservation easement (which is determined through a qualified conservation easement appraisal and documented on IRS Form 8283.) This donation can also be tax deductible.
    • Stewardship Fund donation can range from $5,000 to $50,000 depending on the conservation easement property.
Conservation Easement Example of Costs
  • Every conservation easement and circumstance is different but here is a simplified example of costs associated with a donated conservation easement
  • 500-acre property in south Georgia including 100 acres of row crop agriculture, 200 acres of planted pine silviculture, 100 acres of natural pine upland managed for wildlife, and 100 acres of intact forested wetlands.
  • A qualified appraiser has determined the highest and best use for the property as rural working lands, forestry and recreation.
    • Fair market value before the conservation easement: $2,000,000 ($4,000 / acre)
    • Conservation easement value: $900,000 ($1,800 / acre)
    • Estimated value after the conservation easement: $ 1,100,000 ($2,200 / acre)
  • Costs:
    • Tall Timbers cost recovery $4,000
    • Stewardship Fund donation $9,000 ($900,000 * 0.01)
    • Landowner title opinion $4,500
    • Landowner attorney fees $1,500
    • Property survey – not needed, conserving entire parcel, existing legal description valid
    • Appraisal fee $7,500
    • Accountant fee $2,000
    • TOTAL COST $28,500
    • Conservation Easement Donation $900,000
Tall Timbers Forest
Conservation features, such as wetlands and quality uplands are identified for each project.