The Boone-based Blue Ridge Conservancy (BRC) announced last week that completion of two conservation easements in Wilkes County allowed it to reach a benchmark of 22,000 acres of protected land in northwestern North Carolina in the final days of 2020.

Both tracts are in the Brushy Mountains, one with 58 acres in the Boomer community and the other consisting of 98 acres in the Brushy Mountain community. The Boomer parcel adjoins a larger tract with a conservation easement already held by the BRC so the two total 260 contiguous acres of conserved land.

The BRC focuses on conserving land in Wilkes, Ashe, Alleghany, Watauga, Avery, Yancey and Mitchell counties. The Morganton-based Foothills Conservancy also has helped protect numerous properties in Wilkes.

Combined, the BRC, Foothills and similar non-profit organizations have helped protect tens of thousands of acres of forests and farmland in Wilkes County by working with landowners to secure conservation easements on their property. They have also helped secure donations or purchases of property to add to Blue Ridge Parkway and other publicly-owned acreage in Wilkes.

A conservation easement essentially is a collaborative effort of government and private sectors that in this case is used to protect forestland and farmland from development and conserve it for future generations. It can also be used to protect property of historic value.

The landowner enters into a voluntary and binding legal agreement with an easement that restricts use of his or her property to specific purposes. The conservation easement is deeded to a non-profit like the BRC or the government, which then is responsible for making sure requirements of the easement are upheld.

Conservation easement may be donated or sold, but usually are donated. The amount of the donation is the difference between the land’s value with the easement and its value without the easement. This is determined with an appraisal. A conservation easement on property typically reduces federal and some state taxes owed on the land.

If the donation benefits the public by permanently protecting important conservation resources and meets other federal tax code requirements, it can qualify as a tax-deductible charitable donation.

A conservation easement allows great flexibility to meet landowner objectives. It can allow timber harvesting and other agricultural activities on the property, as well as construction of houses or other structures on limited portions.

A conservation easement can be essential for passing land on to the next generation. Removing the land’s development potential lowers its market value, which should lower estate taxes. Thus, it can make a critical difference in the heirs’ ability to maintain ownership of the land.

Most conservation easements “run with the land,” which means they are permanent and their restrictions remain in force even when ownership of the land changes.

With the right easement terms in place, you can have the peace of mind of knowing your land will be protected and generally used as you wish well beyond your lifetime.

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