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What is a conservation easement?

A conservation easement is a permanent, recorded deed restriction that transfers certain property rights from the willing fee owner (landowner) to the easement holder (District). A conservation easement is permanently binding, so even if the land is sold or willed to a future generation, the easement stays in place. The specific requirements for each easement are negotiated between the willing landowner and the District and varies somewhat from project to project

What is the purpose of a conservation easement?

The purpose of the conservation easement may be to protect agricultural resources, significant natural features such as woodlands or creeks, scenic vistas or a combination of all these goals. The easement outlines which activities are permitted or prohibited on the property, and the responsibilities of both the landowner and the easement holder to ensure these goals are sustained.

How do you determine the value of a conservation easement?

We hire independent appraisers from an approved list to determine conservation easement values. These appraisers use the sale of similar properties and adjust for differences between those sales and the appraised property. They determine the fair market value of the property before the conservation easement is in place, and its potential value after the easement is in place. The difference between these two values is the conservation easement value, which we pay to the willing landowner. Each appraisal is reviewed and approved by staff to ensure that it meets national and District goals and standards.

How do you ensure compliance with conservation easements?

Our staff and volunteers review properties on site at least once a year with the landowner's concurrence to monitor compliance with easement provisions. This is a perpetual obligation on our part to protect the public interest and to guarantee the land is preserved forever. We have set aside funds for these stewardship purposes, and we vigorously address any violations of the agreed-to uses of the land.

Source: Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District