As you may have guessed, the prospect of buying land for conservation use is quite different than buying land for typical real estate purposes.
The primary way to buy land for conservation is to buy a property through a land trust. Alternatively, a land buyer could find a property that they deem worthy of environmental protection from a private seller and then set up the conservation land through a trust themselves.
Buying conservation land is not as straightforward as most buyers would like, but in doing so, they take an active stance on protecting our environment and our planet. Whether you choose to buy land through a trust or choose to hunt it down yourself, the process comes with certain guidelines and sometimes risks. When on the market for conservation land, you should have a specific goal in mind with your intentions of buying the land or have an idea of the type of land you want to conserve.
The United States Department of Agriculture highly encourages the purchase of conservation lands and the conversion of existing private properties to conservation easements. The purchase of conservation lands is then backed by the United States government through tax incentives.
Buying Through a Land Trust
Conservation lands exist in several forms and not all types of land with this classification are available for purchase. You can commonly see lands that have been set up for conservation throughout the United States that are often meant for public use.
These lands are generally found in our National Parks, State Parks, and National Monuments. However, these will not be available for purchase, as they are previously owned or recently purchased lands that the United States government holds for public recreation and conservation protection.
The most common lands that you will find available for purchase will be owned by non-profit charitable organizations known as land trusts. These organizations were set up to buy and protect environmentally significant pieces of land for conservation use.
Most commonly these lands were purchased from a private seller and then converted into conservation land, which is then held and protected by the trust without market intent or are left on an exclusive market for specified conservation buyers.
To qualify for buying land through a trust, you must meet certain criteria that the trust has for you as a property owner. Let’s dive into the process of buying conservation land through a trust.
Land Trust Process
Land trusts hold great value in the land that they have been given to protect and do not sell their conservation lands to just anyone. Unlike traditional real estate that can be easily acquired, so long as you have the money to pay for it, land trusts will vet a potential buyer thoroughly before handing over the property.
They do this to ensure that the values of the land buyer are correlated with the values of their organization, which is to protect and conserve land. With real estate being such a vicious and opportunistic business at times, land trusts must take precautions when selecting a buyer - to prevent real estate tycoons from taking advantage of the system.
Since conservation lands are significantly lower in cost and usually in a naturally serene location, this makes the potential for property opportunities very appealing for those with ungenuine intentions.
After undergoing the vetting process, the land trust will assess your intentions for the land and determine if you are a worthy buyer that will coincide with the restrictions of the land. If accepted you will be put onto a list of certified and trusted conservation buyers.
Conservation Buyer Program
The list you will be included in is known as a conservation buyer program. Since the acquisition of conservation lands is not as loose and available as traditional real estate purchases, it can often take some time to find a property that you want to buy through the trust.
However, if there is a case of land being immediately available that suits your interests and meets your standards, then the purchasing process can essentially begin immediately.
What is more likely to take place is that you will have a desired property in mind with specific qualities that may not have yet been acquired by the land trust. In which case, you may need to wait until the trust has acquired a property that meets your specifications.
Once involved in the conservation buyer program, it’s quite common for land trusts to seek out private properties that meet the qualities you seek to set you up with your purchase. This process can take months and sometimes even years.
Contracts and Agreements
When conducting a report of any land owned by a trust, the property will have undergone a thorough environmental impact report. This report will detail the environmental value and significance of the land, which made it worthy of being classified for conservation use.
To purchase land for conservation through a trust, you must legally adhere to the restrictions that the trust has put in place for the property. Some of the common requirements and restrictions associated with land trust environmental standards are:
- Habitat protection - if there is a significant habitat on your property that has been deemed worthy of protection, you are not allowed to do anything to the land that will interfere with the health of the habitat and its species.
- Resource management - it’s common for conservation lands to have an abundance of natural resources such as freshwater or fertile soil. The landowner is not allowed to damage or manipulate these resources outside of the contract’s specifications.
In addition, there will likely be restrictions on development projects for the land such as:
- Fencing - building fences or barriers may be prohibited within all or certain areas of the property.
- Buildings and structures - the prospect of building additional buildings and structures such as houses, sheds, decks, patios, and other development projects are commonly strictly prohibited.
- Property division - you will not be allowed to divide your property, no matter how large it is, into sections for independent resale or development.
Failure to adhere to the strict guidelines of the land trust’s conservation property can result in penalties and even legal action, which is why it’s very important to be fully aware of all restrictions and guidelines before committing to a purchase.
Buying Conservation Property Yourself
In a country as vast as the United States, there are millions of acres of private property out there that have a significant environmental value that has simply not been set up for conservation.
If you are an ambitious buyer and want to take a DIY approach to buy conservation land, having the resources and the ability to locate private properties worthy of being converted to conservation lands is another great way of acquiring these kinds of properties.
This sort of approach may be a little bit riskier since the land has not been officially certified by a trust. However, it can be done even easier in some regard due to the lack of oversight during the buying process.
To ensure you are making the right purchase and your land is credible for conservation, take the following steps when hunting down the land.
Know What You’re Looking For
The first thing you should determine is the type of qualities you want your land to have. If you have a general idea of what kind of land you want to conserve you will have a great starting point to base your specifications on.
If for example, your main goal is to preserve habitat, searching for land that is rich in biodiversity and has an abundance of species will be a safe bet.
Once you have established a general idea for your property and have found some contenders, you can begin assessing properties for their environmental value.
Unlike a trust that has assessed properties for you, determining the environmental qualities of the land will have to be done on your end.
There are a couple of ways to go about this:
- Hire someone to come onto your property to conduct an EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment). This is essentially the same thing a trust would do in this process, except for you are hiring a third party to evaluate your land.
- Get involved with a trust ahead of time and organize an EIA with them (with the intention of converting the private land to conservation land with the same trust).
At some point or another, the private land must be converted to conservation land either way, which may make option B more suitable for some buyers.
Once you have acquired your private land, you will have to go through an appraisal process to convert the land for conservation use.
If you chose to assess your property through a trust, you shouldn’t have a hard time continuing the conversion process as you would have bought directly from them in the first place.
However, if you did the inspection through a third-party organization, you have the option to locate a non-profit land trust organization or convert the land through a governmental organization like Energy and Environmental Affairs.
About THE AUTHOR
James Parker has a Masters degree in Sustainability with a focus on land management, permaculture and regenerative agriculture. He also has experience managing sustainability projects, and is passionate about conservation and sustainability.Read More About James Parker