WHY CONSERVE WORKING LANDS?
South Texas is changing and growing faster than anywhere else in the state.
Our sources of water are increasingly being threatened due to drought, development pressure, and population growth. But what we don’t always see is the effect this growth has on our native wildlife. Now more than ever it is crucial to protect land, water and wildlife for future generations.
What Are Working Lands?
Working lands are privately owned farms, ranches, and forests that produce food and fiber, support rural economies, and provide wildlife habitat, clean air and water, and recreational opportunities.
OUR FUTURE DEPENDS ON THE LAND
More than 95% of Texas's private lands are owned by farmers and ranchers, families whose commitment to stewardship runs generations deep. Carrying on this legacy so the land continues to thrive for future generations is the essence of conservation.The Valley’s population is one of the fastest growing in the country; in 30 years it has tripled. Great are the economic pressures to subdivide land into small parcels, which inevitably reduces native plants and wildlife. Time after time, the experts have found that cutting up habitat is the biggest threat to the survival of any plants and animals. Stewardship of our working lands has never been more important, and VLF is the only land trust south of San Antonio dedicated to conserving these lands – an ecosystem referred to as the “last great habitat”.
INTRO TO CONSERVATION EASEMENTS
Conservation easements are voluntary agreements between a landowner and a qualified organization like VLF to restrict development of a property.
They are permanent and run with the land despite any changes in ownership. Texas’ landscapes and its people are diverse. Because every landowner and every property is unique - no two conservation easements are alike. Each is tailored to a specific piece of land and the conservation values of its owner.
In general, easements limit development to protect certain resources in perpetuity, such as open space, wildlife habitat, agricultural use, scenic vistas, historic landmarks and more. Easements encourage traditional activities such as farming, grazing, hunting, fishing, and recreation on the land. VLF focuses on conservation easements, which are designed specifically to preserve wildlife habitats, working lands, heritage lands and water resources.
Typically, the easement donation process takes approximately four to six months. Ready to get started? Contact us.
Landowners must follow the following steps
Contact VLF for Preliminary DiscussionVLF does not solicit conservation projects. Landowners must first contact VLF about their interest in an easement and request an information packet.
Landowner Information PacketThe landowner information packet includes detailed information about VLF, the uses and benefits of agricultural conservation easements, tax and financial topics, and many additional resources. After reviewing the packet, if landowner is still interested in pursuing an easement you must contact VLF and speak with the Executive Director. At this time, basic information will be discussed, including location, size, interesting species, current land uses and future goals.
Landowner Project Application and Transaction Cost MemoThe Landowner Project Application should be submitted to VLF for review, and VLF will provide a Transaction Cost Memo which outlines and estimates all costs associated with the conveyance of the conservation easement.
Site VisitAfter reviewing the Landowner Project Application, VLF staff will determine if the project meets VLF’s project selection criteria. If so, a site visit will be scheduled to visit the property for further evaluation
Project Approval from the Board of DirectorsAs a non-profit, we are governed by a Board of Directors, which sets the strategic direction of our mission and efforts. The VLF Board of Directors formally approves all projects. Once approved, the VLF staff and landowner will begin the process of ordering the required due diligence reports and negotiating the terms of the conservation easement.
Independent Legal AdviceVLF does not provide legal or financial advice. We strongly recommend that landowners acquire legal representation and consult a financial advisor to understand the specifics of conservation easements as well as the tax implications of an easement. Multiple due diligence reports need to be completed prior to conveying a conservation easement. VLF will provide a list of qualified professionals who specialize in conservation easements, but it is the landowner’s responsibility to contact, hire and pay for their production.
Easement DraftingVLF, the landowner and legal counsel for both parties will draft the deed of conservation easement. The initial drafting will be based on VLF’s model conservation easement, but tailored to the specific characteristics and conservation values of the property, as well as the needs of the landowner. Because a conservation easement is essentially a deed restriction, the easement will remain attached to the title of your property in perpetuity, even if you choose to sell your land. Therefore, it is essential that we work with you to create a strong document that provides adequate protection to the conservation values of your land, while at the same time, enough flexibility that you and your heirs can continue to live and work on your land. Negotiating the deed can be complex and time consuming, and it is essential that VLF and the landowner fully agree on all of the terms.
AppraisalThe value of the conservation easement must be determined by an independent qualified conservation easement appraisal. The appraiser will assess the value of your property with and without a conservation easement. The difference between these two values is considered the value of the easement donation. This step is a requirement for any landowner who intends to take an income tax deduction from the donation of an easement and is the financial responsibility of the landowner. We will be happy to refer you to qualified appraisers. NOTE: Standard land appraisals do not qualify.
Baseline Inventory ReportFederal law requires that a Baseline Inventory Report documenting the property’s current and historic natural resources be completed. This document is used by VLF to carry out its perpetual stewardship obligations.
Endowment and Legal DefenseOne of VLF’s responsibilities in accepting an easement is conducting monitoring visits each year per IRS regulation. As part of the commitment to the perpetual monitoring of the property, VLF typically asks for a modest endowment with each easement donated. This is a one-time contribution, and is calculated using a standard formula, which includes property size, distance from our offices, preparation and reporting time, number of landowners, and several other items. This endowment is essentially a landowner's insurance policy to guarantee the long-term enforcement of the conservation easement.
Closing and RecordingClosing will be handled through a title company. The signed deed will be recorded in the county records by the title company, which will then issue a title policy on the conservation easement interest to VLF.
IRS FormDonors who wish to take a charitable deduction for a gift of a conservation easement with a value in excess of $5,000 must report the value of such a gift on IRS Form 8283 (Noncash Charitable Contributions) and submit this form with your federal income tax return. VLF must sign this form. Donors who claim a deduction of more than $500,000 must attach a complete copy of a qualified appraisal to the tax return for the year in which the deduction is first claimed (see Appraisals section, above). While VLF does not take a position on the value of your gift, we will not knowingly participate in a project where we have significant concerns about the tax deduction.
Stewardship Depends on Strong RelationshipsFinalizing a conservation easement is only the beginning of our relationship with a landowner. Easements are forever, making long-term stewardship of the land a critical part of VLF’s work. We are committed to defending and enforcing each and every one of our conservation easements.
A Personal ApproachVLF takes a unique and personal approach to stewardship. Our philosophy draws from a deep understanding of working lands and a great respect for a landowner’s privacy and ability to manage the day-to-day activities on their property.
• VLF monitors each conservation easement annually and works diligently with landowners to resolve stewardship issues.
• The purpose of monitoring visits is to ensure that the terms of the easement are being met and to continue building a strong relationship with the landowner.
Ultimately, VLF’s stewardship program has been successful because we share the goals and values of our partners in land conservation. For the past three decades, we have worked hard to be a faithful advisor to landowners and have been recognized for our character and achievements. But we are proudest to have earned the respect of the families that trust us with their heritage.