Considering a Conservation Easement
Iowa’s landscape is constantly changing.
Though it may not be visible with each passing day, natural forces shape the ground, as rain erodes the land and wind deposits new sediment over hills and plains. Landowners may have little control over how nature shapes the earth, but through conservation easements, they do have a say in any man-made changes.
Conservation easements offer landowners the opportunity to decide how their land changes over time. These easements permanently protect the property, but otherwise are generally flexible depending on the wishes of the owner.
“Conservation easements give people many different options to continue to own the land, pass it on to their children, leave it in their will to a conservation organization or sell it. Whatever future ownership or management looks like, if they put a conservation easement in place, they know the land — its use, habitat and water quality, the scenic beauty — that’s protected,” said Erin Van Waus, INHF conservation easement director.
Since conservation easements are tailored to the landowner and the land, they vary widely depending on the prioritization of different interests, whether its for natural habitat, agriculture or cultural and historical significance. Ace Aossey, who owns land in Linn County near the Wickiup Hill Learning Center, donated his 80-acre easement to protect natural land that provides quality habitat for grassland birds, pollinators, mammals and wildflower species. Preserving this property in its current state stands to improve the water quality of the Cedar River watershed, and create a buffer of protected private land adjacent to the Wickiup Hill Natural Area.
Ken and Shirley Andrews also donated a conservation easement near Wickiup Hill to complete protection of their nearly 50-acre tree farm. A previous conservation easement protected much of the tree farm that they’ve cultivated for 40 years. Their conservation easement protects open space and scenic beauty, prohibiting additional buildings on the area while allowing the property to continue to be used as a tree farm.
“We wanted to protect the land from being developed and we liked what we heard about INHF and trusted them,” the Andrews said. “We can see in the future the need for open space and habitat for wildlife. People need to have open spaces and areas to recharge.”
Contributing to the puzzle of land that surrounds the 750-acre Wickiup Hill area is Dale Peterson, who has donated substantial conservation easements to INHF and the Linn County Conservation Board. INHF now holds the conservation easement on over 180 acres that buffer existing protected land and to preserve open spaces, wildlife habitat and the natural beauty of the area. This property boasts prairie plantings, ponds and woodlands with vegetation that has a positive impact on water quality and wildlife habitat.
“The neat thing with these easements is that it’s protecting perennial habitat,” Van Waus said. “There are roots in the soil all year round, protecting the water quality and providing habitat for many species and pollinators.”
Conservation easements aren’t always large. The small, 7-acre North Manhattan Beach property in Dickinson County offers mighty protection to the species that seek shelter near the surrounding lake. By resisting development, the landowners have ensured that the area remains a haven for the birds, amphibians and other wildlife that rely on the land for habitat and protection. In addition to acting as a sanctuary for wildlife, prairie plantings help with the drainage from crop fields that could otherwise flow directly into West Okoboji Lake.
“Even in small segments, it’s important to protect prairie and habitat from encroaching threats,” said Melanie Louis, INHF's former land stewardship associate (Melanie recently accepted a new position as INHF's volunteer coordinator). “It’s the idea of having a safe space for mammals and amphibians and waterfowl in a heavily developed area.”
The decision to donate a conservation easement is one that can benefit both the landowner and their property, not to mention the species that may live within its borders. Protecting land with a conservation easement ensures that the owner’s wishes are fulfilled decades into the future, and that the area’s resources are protected. When a donation of land or a conservation easement provides permanent conservation benefits, the donation may also be considered for generous and unique income tax benefits.
Learn more about conservation easements and if an easement is the right decision for your land.