A conservation easement is a permanent restriction placed on a property to protect certain natural resources features identified by the deed of conservation easement.

Generally, conservation easements are either sold or donated by a landowner to a qualified conservation organization and constitute a legally binding agreement that may limit or condition certain types of uses or activities from occurring on a property in perpetuity or prevent development from taking place on a property in perpetuity in order to fulfill the conservation purposes of the easement. Conservation easements function as non-possessory, legal covenants on a property. As such, land owners still possess the property and may sell or transfer a property encumbered by an easement.

Conservation easements protect land for future generations by restricting or conditioning certain rights or uses necessary to protect specific conservation values, such as water quality, while allowing for the retention of other rights and uses by a landowner (including the right to sell or transfer). As such, a conservation easement restricted property can continue to provide economic benefits for an area in the form of jobs, economic activity and property taxes. WAC’s conservation easements are designed to allow for continued intensive commercial activities such as agriculture, timber harvests and blue stone quarrying so long as those activities have a conservation plan approved by WAC.

As a legally binding document, a conservation easement is recorded at the county in which the property is located as a deed and becomes identified as a permanent interest in the property’s record if a title search is conducted on the property.

Because certain uses are permanently restricted or conditioned, land subject to a conservation easement may be worth less on the open market than comparable unrestricted and developable parcels.

Once a landowner voluntarily agrees to sell or donate certain rights or uses associated with a property via a conservation easement, the private organization or public agency that holds the conservation easement is obligated to enforce the landowner’s promise not to exercise those rights and follow the terms and conditions of the conservation easement.