A conservation restriction (CR) is a permanent deed restriction, recorded with the Registry of Deeds and binding on all future owners of a parcel. A conservation restriction identifies the important ecological features of the property and the public benefit which results from preserving the natural condition of the land. The property owner retains ownership of the land and may sell or bequeath the preserved land with all restrictions in place.
In Massachusetts, a Conservation Restriction is defined by Chapter 184 of Mass General Laws.
M.G.L. ch.184, s.31-33 requires Secretariat approval of conservation restrictions as a means of assuring “public benefit.” The Secretary’s approval affords certain protections for easements in gross and in perpetuity.
Please visit the website of the Department of Conservation and Recreation to learn more about the process.
To place a conservation restriction on private property, a landowner must work with a qualified conservation organization such as a land trust, a conservation commission, or a state agency. The qualified conservation group or agency will visit the property, interview the landowner, and draft the restriction. The conservation group will be responsible in perpetuity for enforcing the terms of the restriction with all future owners of the land.
A conservation restriction will identify the specific natural conditions found on the land and outline what measures are required to protect the important features there. These measures include prohibitions against subdividing the property or damaging the wildlife habitat. A restriction will also identify the routine maintenance which is permitted. Finally, the document will lay out how disputes will be handled and the responsibilities of the current and future landowners and the land trust.
The specific terms of a restriction will depend upon the wishes of the landowners, the condition of the property and the type of habitat included. Restrictions can be designed for farmland that remains in active production, for woodlots or forestry lands, or for wetlands or river front property.
In Massachusetts, all conservation restrictions which are held by non-profit land trusts must be approved by the local Conservation Commission, the Board of Selectmen or Town Council, and by the Commonwealth’s Secretary of Energy and Environment.
The donation of a permanent conservation restriction on important wildlife habitat provides a significant benefit to the public. Donors should consult their tax accountant or attorney to determine whether they are eligible for a federal income tax charitable deduction.
The crafting of a CR and its approval process can be lengthy. Please call Metacomet at (888) 298-7284 or email the land trust for more information.
Because the responsibility for enforcing a restriction in perpetuity is a long-term obligation, the land trust requests a stewardship donation to our Stewardship Program. The amount is determined on a case-by-case basis. Metacomet’s responsibilities include periodic visits to the property, continuity in times of ownership changes, and monitoring the natural resources of the land. We must also sustain our organization so that we are able to carry out our responsibilities. A stewardship gift may be given over a period of years.