“An easement is an agreement between a trust like the Land Conservancy and a landowner,” said Kim Elsenbroek, land conservation specialist at The Land Conservancy of McHenry County. “The conservation values range from an oak or hickory forest, a prairie or a wetland to a farm.”
“When you put a conservation easement on your property, it is permanent, and it holds true to all landowners who own the parcel after you,” said Elsenbroek during the Preserving the Family Farm meeting, hosted by The Land Conservancy of McHenry County.
“You choose the conservation value you want to want to protect and what things you want to allow or not allow on your property,” she said. “And you continue to use your land like you always have.”
Conservation easements are voluntary and are specific to each property.
“Easements may lower the value or increase the value of your property,” Elsenbroek said. “For farmers, if it lowers that value that could increase the affordability for the next generation of farmers.”
The Land Conservancy of McHenry County is a nonprofit organization that was founded in 1991 and focuses on working with private landowners.
“We have just under 3,000 acres of conservation easement land,” Elsenbroek said. “No matter how unique your farm, we can help you provide protection.”
“I’ve been working with people on conservation and agricultural easements for the past 15 years,” said Linda Balek, farm program manager for the Land Conservancy. “Some farms contain natural areas that the owner wants to protect.”
The Land Conservancy monitors each easement once a year.
“An easement is a legal document that is filed at the recorder’s office and married to the title of the land,” Balek said.
The reasons for establishing an easement is different for each person.
“It’s hard to describe, but people who own land know what I’m talking about,” Balek said. “Some people I’ve worked with have told me they can’t imagine the land ever being developed.”
“When they walk through the woods, along the creek or across the field that’s just been harvested, it’s like sacred ground,” she said. “That gets to the heart of why a person would put an easement on their property. It’s an option for you to preserve the land you love.”
For anyone who is thinking of establishing an easement, planning is a very important part of the process, said Ron Jarvis, certified public accountant at Jarvis & Associates Ltd. in Woodstock.
“There is more that goes into it than just filling out a form and filling a tax return,” he said.
Tax incentives are available for conservation easements based on the appraised value of the land.
“As a non-farmer, you are able to deduct an amount equal to 50% of your income,” Jarvis said. “So, if your income on your tax return is $100,000, you can take a $50,000 reduction in the year of the appraisal.”
Farmers can deduct equal to 100% of their income, he said.
“You have 15 years to use that deduction,” he said. “If you haven’t used it up in 15 years, you lose it, and that’s why you have to plan.”
A farmer is defined as someone who receives more than 50% of his or her income from the trade or business of farming. In addition, for an easement to qualify for a farmer there is a requirement that the land remains available for agriculture.
“If you take the deduction, do what the IRS tells you to do and attach all the paperwork to the tax return,” Jarvis said. “It’s that simple — all you have to do is follow the rules.”
For more information about The Land Conservancy of McHenry County, go to www.conservemc.org or call 815-337-9502.