Land Protection Methods


Francis Shore

There is a wealth of information available from organizations such as the Massachusetts Land Trust Coalition and the Land Trust Alliance. However, if you are interested in learning more about how to protect your property, preserve its natural resource values, and generate tax advantages for you and your family, you should discuss your options with your legal and financial advisors.


A conservation restriction is a strategy allowing the landowner to maintain ownership and use of the land while limiting development on the property, and ensuring that the land remains in the condition the landowner wishes. A conservation restriction is an addition to the existing property deed and the conditions in the conservation restriction are binding on all future owners. There is great flexibility in creating a conservation restriction.


A. Gift in Fee Simple: Most of the land protected by conservation groups has been acquired through outright gifts of the land by generous and willing donors. If land is given for conservation purposes the receiving organization is required to maintain the land in its natural state in perpetuity. The tax benefits of gifting land are numerous.

B. Gift of a Remainder Interest: A landowner can give away property to a conservation organization but retain the right to live on it. At the death of the landowner, the full ownership of the land transfers to the conservation organization. The donor of a remainder interest can generally claim a related income tax deduction and potentially high real estate taxes are eliminated.

C. Bequests: A landowner can convey land to an organization such as a land trust in their will. A deduction from the value of one’s taxable estate is allowed for land bequeathed for public purposes.


A. Fair market Value: Small regional land trusts are generally unable to purchase conservation land at fair market value. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has several land conservation programs that occasionally purchase land with significant resources characteristics worth preserving. The Commonwealth prefers to acquire lands that build on its existing open space reserves. A regional land trust can act as a liaison for owners of land with outstanding resources that are competitive candidates for acquisition by other organizations and agencies.

B. Bargain Sale: Under this method, the landowner sells the property to a charitable organization for less than fair market value. Bargain sales are a standard open space acquisition tool for large private land conservation organizations and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. A small local land trust is generally unable to purchase conservation land, even at bargain sale prices. Some regional or statewide land trusts are able to use this option to protect open space deemed critical to a region’s scenic and natural heritage.

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