Conservation easements are voluntary legal agreements designed to ensure the long-term viability and protection of the natural resources within a surveyed and recorded boundary. The easement planning process establishes allowances and restrictions that are beneficial to the landowner, the easement holder, and the environment. Once finalized, a conservation easement is recorded with the Register of Deeds of the county where the property is located. Conservation easements are perpetual and remain in place with each change in land ownership. Visit this link for more information on conservation and historic preservation easements. Landowners may contact the Stewardship Program by phone at (919.707.8536) or by e-mail at (email@example.com) with questions regarding the conservation easement on their property.
Although conservation easements prohibit development, farming, timbering and mining activities they do allow passive and low-impact recreation activities. Often referred to as the landowner's "Reserved Rights" or "Reserved Uses" these activities can include hunting, fishing, and educational uses. Landowners should refer to the text in the recorded conservation easement for the rights specifically reserved for the landowner.
All conservation easements are recorded with the Register of Deeds office. A landowner should contact the Register of Deeds office in their County to obtain a copy of the conservation easement documentation. In addition, DEQ can provide a landowner with geospatial data that can be viewed using Google Earth. The Department can also provide a digital property portfolio that contains copies of the conservation easement text.
The mitigation phase involves planning, property acquisition, design, construction, and monitoring. Mitigation monitoring involves annual collection of data on the site and is conducted for a minimum of five years. Once the monitoring results show the mitigation objectives have been accomplished, the project transitions to the stewardship phase. During the stewardship phase the easement holder conducts routine inspections of the conservation easement boundary and interior to ensure the easement terms and conditions are being adhered to. The Division of Mitigation Services manages the mitigation phase of the restoration project and the Stewardship Program ensures easement compliance during the stewardship phase.
Information pertaining to the mitigation project protected by a conservation easement can be found at Division of Mitigation Services Projects.
If wildlife was managed during the mitigation phase of the restoration project the management activities will not be continued during the stewardship phase. Landowners may choose to continue wildlife management activities provided the activities are in compliance with laws, permitting requirements, and the restrictions of the conservation easement. Funding of stewardship phase wildlife management activities are the responsibility of the landowner.
During the mitigation phase restoration activities may have included the control of non-native species. If non-native plants persist beyond the mitigation phase of the project landowners may control these species provided the management activities are in compliance with laws, permitting requirements, and the restrictions of the conservation easement. All stewardship phase management of non-native plants will be funded by the landowner. For assistance with species identification and management recommendations, contact the DEQ Stewardship Program.
With some restoration projects, fencing was installed during the mitigation phase to exclude livestock or for other reasons. In all cases, the landowner is responsible for the costs of fence maintenance, repair, and replacement.
For some projects there was a need to construct stream crossings that minimize impacts to the restoration project. As with fencing, funding for any maintenance, repair, or replacement of these features is the responsibility of the landowner.
Hunting is allowed within conservation easements however, certain activities associated with hunting may not comply with the restrictions of the easement. Tree stands are limited to temporary stands. Motor vehicles and the clearing of vegetation are prohibited within a conservation easement. Landowners should review the text of the easement prior to conducting hunting-related activities in the easement area.
In most cases, existing roads within an easement can be maintained. New roads are not allowed. The landowner should carefully review the easement text and survey plat to determine which roads may be maintained. Please contact the DEQ Stewardship Program with any questions on road and trail maintenance allowances.
In most cases, there is no public access to conservation easements on private property. At times, there may be requests for researchers to access the easement area. Whether this is provided is determined by the landowner. Those with interest in visiting a conservation easement on private property should first obtain written permission from the landowner.
As part of the restoration project, all easement corners were surveyed and monumented in the ground with metal rods. Most of these rods are also topped with 2” diameter aluminum caps. DEQ also uses a variety of methods to post easement boundaries including signage, metal posts, and tree blaze. These may be a witness post or witness tree, located near the line but not the exact location of the boundary.
Landowners can visit our Conservation Properties page for conservation easement data that can be downloaded and viewed with Google Earth. DEQ also maintains digital copies of conservation easement survey plats and geospatial data that may help a landowner in locating an easement boundary.
We encourage sellers to provide the buyer with a copy of the conservation easement and survey plat to ensure a clear understanding of the property and continued support of the conservation easement. Please contact the Stewardship Program following the sale and provide updated ownership and contact information.
Many conservation easements are acquired to provide long-term protection of natural resources. A prospective buyer should review the conservation easement documentation prior to purchasing the property. Prospective buyers should contact the Register of Deeds office in their County to obtain a copy of the conservation easement and survey plat. New landowners should notify the Stewardship Program of the change in ownership and provide updated contact information.
The easement specifies that a landowner will receive notification in advance of the visits. The program maintains contact information of landowners and typically notification will be sent by mail. Landowners may also provide the program a contact phone number or email address. If your contact information has changed, please contact the Stewardship Program.
Whether inadvertently or intentional, violations of the easement can and do happen. Minor violations include activities or uses that violate the conditions of the easement but are expected to cause no substantial negative impact. Minor violations are typically resolved by the easement holder and rarely involve litigation. Major violations include activities or uses that violate the conditions of the easement and are expected to cause a substantial negative impact to the conservation easement. Major violations are resolved by legal consultation or action by state Attorney General’s office or other legal counsel. Regardless of scale, all violations are taken seriously and corrective actions are taken by the program to resolve the violation. For more information, see Corrective Actions for Conservation Easement Violations.