Below is a list of frequently asked questions regarding conservation easements and land conservation. If you have any additional questions, please don’t hesitate to contact the BRLT office at (406) 375-0956.

What is a land trust?

A non-profit organization that partners with willing landowners – including multi-generational farmers and ranchers –  to conserve and maintain all or a portion of their property through voluntary agreements known as conservation easements.

What is a conservation easement?

A voluntary, legally binding legal agreement between a landowner and a qualified organization, such as BRLT, that allows the landowner to permanently protect the land they love by limiting present and future use. This flexible, long-lasting tool can help landowners accomplish different goals including maintaining viable farmland for production, preserving critical wildlife habitat and water resources, and preserving viewsheds and open space.

Why might a landowner be interested in conserving their property through a conservation easement?

Most often, we find the driving force behind a landowner’s decision to place a conservation easement on their land is the desire to leave a lasting legacy that sustains Montana’s agricultural heritage, abundant wildlife, and unique quality of life. All landowners we work with have a deep connection to their land and a desire to see it preserved for future generations. A conservation easement ensures these values will stay intact even as the property changes hands between generations and subsequent landowners.

How do landowners benefit financially from conserving their properties?

BRLT works exclusively with landowners who are interested in voluntarily conserving their property because of its conservation values. This must be the driving force behind any conservation transaction. That said, landowners might also be able to receive financial benefits for the development value they surrender when granting an easement. Benefits include cash compensation, income tax deductions or a combination of both. Compensation is often used to expand or reinvest in agricultural operations, for retirement, to pay down debt or for other purposes. Landowners who donate the value of a conservation easement, rather than sell it, are typically eligible for significant income and estate tax benefits.

How does the public benefit from conserved properties?

The preservation of open lands, continuation of working farms and ranches, protection of wildlife habitat and clean rivers and streams – all of which make the Bitterroot Valley such a special place.

Do landowners surrender any private property rights when signing a conservation easement?

A conservation easement will generally prevent the landowner from engaging in a set of pre-determined land uses that will cause harm to the property’s conservation values, including unlimited residential or commercial development, subdivision, dumping of toxic waste, and surface mining. Outside of that, the landowner is free to use the property in the same manner as they had before the easement was signed. The landowner retains sole ownership and primary management authority of the property, while BRLT is responsible for ensuring that the conservation values identified in the easement remain intact.

What happens if the land under a conservation easement is sold or passed on to heirs?

Conservation easements run with the land. The new owner must comply with the terms of the conservation easement.

Does the general public have access to conserved properties?

Conservation easements do not require a landowner to allow public access to their property. A conservation easement property remains privately owned and, as a result, the landowner retains the right to exclude the public. Conservation easements can be structured to grant permanent public access, but the decision to do so is completely voluntary and therefore relatively uncommon.