Conservation Easements

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What is it?

Conservation Easements are voluntary agreements between a landowner and a ‘qualified organization’ whereby the landowner relinquishes specified land use opportunities in order to protect the conservation values of all or part of their land. A Conservation Easement is typically perpetual, and is registered on the title of the land, running with the land regardless of owner. The landowner retains title, and continues using the land subject to the restrictions in the easement. They are free to sell, gift or will that property, but the easement binds future landowners to the same land use restrictions.

How can municipalities use it?

The Alberta Land Stewardship Act (not the Municipal Government Act) designates municipalities as ‘qualified organizations’. Alberta municipalities can use the Conservation Easement tool in ‘one off’ situations, create a comprehensive program, or partner with other organizations. Municipalities can wait for interested landowners to come forward, or can approach owners of land with valuable natural infrastructure assets, and propose a Conservation Easement. Many municipalities include mention of Conservation Easements in their Municipal Development Plan as being a legitimate option for their land acquisition and natural areas strategies. Land trusts and conservancies (land conservation NGOs) are active in most Alberta municipalities, and many municipalities partner with them on conservation easement projects.

What are the advantages?

There are many advantages of Conservation Easements, including:

  • They need not be placed on the entire parcel

  • Land use restrictions can be tailored for each landowner agreement

  • Municipalities can provide a charitable tax receipt in return for an easement

  • Because Conservation Easements are contractual agreements that run with the title of the land, they are not affected by changes in bylaws, councils, or policies

  • Unlike other tools only enabled at the point of subdivision application, municipalities can pursue Conservation Easements at any time

  • Establishes a conservation relationship between the municipality and the ratepayer

  • Because the land is retained by the landowner, they are free work the land (subject to the restrictions), and the land stays on the tax rolls

What should you watch out for?

There are potential challenges and barriers with using Conservation Easements, including:

  • Are not voluntary, so cannot be ‘required’ like other municipal tools (e.g., reserve land)

  • Conservation Agreements – especially the first one a municipality does – can be complex to draft

  • If there is a tax receipt or cash payment being provided, the value of the easement (not the land) has to be determined by a qualified appraiser

  • Need to integrate Conservation Easements into the municipality’s land tracking system

How can it help maintain natural infrastructure?

Much of the important natural infrastructure in a municipality is on private land. Many landowners who are concerned about maintaining that natural infrastructure (and its benefits) in perpetuity are not in a position to give their land away for that purpose. Conservation Easements help municipalities facilitate that landowner desire, satisfy the natural infrastructure conservation goals of the municipality, while still keeping the land in active private ownership and use. This allows the municipality to ensure protection of the natural infrastructure assets, functions, and benefits.

Resources

Conservation Easements in Alberta – This web site created by the Miistakis Institute and the Environmental Law Centre to help landowners, land trusts, municipalities and others find answers to questions related to conservation easements in Alberta.


A Conservation Easement Guide for Municipalities – A part of the Community Conserve platform, this site provides a practical how-to guide for municipalities considering holding conservation easements or establishing a conservation easement program. Includes examples, cases, and templates.


Conservation Easements Legal and Plain Language - The Alberta Land Stewardship Act enables conservation easements in Alberta. This document lays the legal text side-by-side with a plain language description of what it means.


Land Trusts in Alberta – A listing of the land trusts and conservancies active in Alberta, including descriptions of the geographic areas in which they operate.


Strathcona County Conservation Easement Program - Strathcona County has actively engaged in conservation easement acquisition since the legislation was introduced in Alberta. This page outlines their program.


Flagstaff County, Alberta – Flagstaff County recently created a Conservation Easement Program Bylaw to enable their use in protecting the County’s environmentally and agriculturally significant features.


Did we miss something?

If you know of a resource that should be on this list - or your municipality has a sample or case that should be here, please let us know!

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