Why conserve land?
Land supports life. Land that is undeveloped keeps air and water clean for living things. That land, with its grasses and forests and rocky hillsides, filters toxins, pollution, and foreign matter from those elements necessary for life.
Land supports livelihoods. In particular, the scenic beauty of the Thousand Islands attracts people who want to live here, and to visit here. Those people build houses, buy goods & services, rent hotel rooms and generally support the economy of the region.
Land supports wildlife. Many species are experiencing a loss of habitat because of increased development or changes in agricultural practices. Conserving land in its natural state protects wildlife habitats and species populations.
Land provides recreation. The modern world is full of stresses and demands on our time. We have to carve out opportunities to be with family, to have fun and to achieve balance in our daily lives. The recreational opportunities provided by a natural landscape – hiking and biking, swimming and kayaking – are essential to a healthy lifestyle.
How does TILT conserve land?
The mission of the Thousand Islands Land Trust is to conserve the natural beauty, wildlife habitats and recreational opportunities of the Thousand Islands region. TILT conserves over 8000 acres of land. Roughly half of it is privately owned land subject to conservation easements held by TILT. Landowners have voluntarily placed easements on their property, limiting their own development rights, in order to protect natural and cultural attributes of the land.
The other half is land that is owned by TILT and falls into several categories. Some of these properties were donated to TILT by people who wished to conserve their special characteristics for the benefit of future generations; while others were acquired through generous land and monetary donations. These properties include multiple preserves on Grindstone Island, Wellesley Island and the mainland featuring a variety of wetlands, forest lands and grasslands. The land trust has also acquired numerous rocks and shoals through quit-claim deeds. In owning these rocks and shoals, TILT conserves the important wildlife habitat that they provide and protects them from the pressure of future developments.
A common misconception is that conserved land translates into loss of tax revenues for municipalities and schools. Please click here to read the report "Economic Benefits of Open Space Preservation," written by Thomas P. DiNapoli, State Comptroller in March of 2010.
What is a conservation easement?
A conservation easement is a voluntary legal agreement between you, the landowner, and TILT (or other qualified organization) that protects land in perpetuity. The easement stays with the land when it is sold or inherited, permanently protecting it according to the terms of the agreement.
TILT works with you to incorporate your desires for the property into the agreement, so the creation of the document is very flexible and personal. For instance, you may want to provide building sites for your heirs, or you may want to keep a woodlot forever wild. Typically, an easement limits some of your development rights as the owner. TILT advises you about the conservation values of your property, identifying critical habitat for example.
The ownership of the land does not change – it remains your private property and is not owned by TILT. The land trust is responsible for stewarding the land in perpetuity, ensuring that the terms of the easement are met, forever.
Will a conservation easement reduce my property taxes?
Probably not. Tax assessments are made by local assessors based on fair market value of the property. While undeveloped land does not require as many municipal services as developed land does, conserving land does not lower the assessment of the property. At this time, placing an easement on property has not resulted in property tax savings in Jefferson or St. Lawrence counties in TILT’s experience.
What steps do I take to create a conservation easement?
First, contact the Thousand Islands Land Trust and become acquainted with our organization and the services we can provide. (Telephone: 315.686.5345.) Explore with us the conservation values you want to protect on the land. Discuss what you want to accomplish, and what development rights you may want to retain. Always consult with other family members regarding an easement, and remember that you should consult with your own attorney or financial advisor regarding such an important decision.
How long does a conservation easement last?
Most easements "run with the land," committing the original owner and all subsequent owners to the easement's provisions. Only donations of perpetual easements can qualify for income and estate tax benefits. The easement is recorded at the county records office so that all future owners will learn about the restrictions when they obtain title reports.
Is public access required on conserved lands?
No, landowners keep the right to restrict or allow public access as they wish – it is still private property. Some landowners may allow the public to use trails or invite them for a TILT sponsored nature walk or special event.
Do I still own and control my property after donating a conservation easement?
Yes, only the specific rights that you choose to donate are removed from the property. You can still own, build upon, sell, lease mortgage, farm or otherwise use your property as long as such use is consistent with the terms that you have agreed upon in the conservation easement.
What are a land trust's responsibilities regarding conservation easements?
All land trusts, including TILT, are responsible for enforcing the restrictions that the easement document spells out. Therefore, land trusts including TILT monitor the property on a regular basis -- typically once a year - to determine that the property remains in the condition prescribed by the easement document. TILT maintains written records of these monitoring visits, which also provide the landowner a chance to keep in touch with the land trust. TILT has established a special investment fund to provide for long-term stewardship of the easements we hold.
What are other conservation methods available to me?
You can donate your land to TILT and take a charitable income tax deduction based on the fair market value of the land. Acceptance of the land depends on its significant conservation values and TILT’s capacity to steward and manage it. Not all donations of land are suitable for the land trust, but TILT will look at all options with the landowner.
In a bargain sale, you sell your land to a land trust for less than its fair market value. This not only makes it more affordable for the land trust, but offers several benefits to you; it provides cash, avoids some capital gains tax, and entitles you to a charitable income tax deduction based on the difference between the land’s fair market value and its sale price.
Be sure to consult your attorney and/or financial advisor for further information.