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What is a Land Trust

What is a Land Trust?

A land trust is a private, nonprofit organization that conserves land by working with landowners to achieve their goals for their property. In many cases, land trusts protect land by using a legal agreement called a conservation easement. A land trust is typically not a “trust” in a legal sense.

Why are land trusts becoming more popular?

Land trusts are resources for both individuals and communities that can act quickly to protect open space for future generations. In a time of increasing development pressure and sprawl, land trusts provide a personal service tailored to a landowner’s needs in the present moment to protect land for the future.

How many land trusts are there?

More than 1,700 land trusts exist across the country. Some are big. Some are small. A few work statewide, like The Land Trust for Tennessee, while others protect specific counties, watersheds, or village squares. Learn more at LandTrustAlliance.org.

What can’t a land trust do?

A land trust cannot provide legal or financial advice or guarantee that a particular conservation plan is best for your personal or financial circumstances. It is important for landowners to seek independent advice from qualified advisors and discuss this topic with family members.

How does The Land Trust for Tennessee work?

Do you own most of the land you protect?

No. We own less than 1 percent of the total acres we have worked to protect. The remaining acres are owned by private landowners, state or local governments, and qualified organizations.

Are you a government organization?

No. The Land Trust for Tennessee is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit land conservation organization. We are supported through the generosity of individuals, foundations, and corporations.

Do you work across the state?

Yes. We also work directly across the state line in a limited number of Kentucky counties. Our work currently spans 70+ counties.

Do you protect both private and public land?

Yes. We work with private landowners to conserve their family properties and we also work with conservation partners on projects to expand or create protected public areas, including state and city parks.

Protecting Your land

Is there a minimum number of acres I have to own to work with you?

No. We do not have minimum acreage requirements. We look at each individual property and analyze its conservation values before agreeing to protect it. We have protected properties ranging from ½ an acre in downtown Nashville to 4,000 acres on the Cumberland Plateau.

Can you stop condemnation?

No. However, The Land Trust will work with you to try to minimize or mitigate the impact, if at all possible.

How do I begin the process of conserving my land?

Call us at (615) 244-LAND(5263).

What if I want to sell or donate my land – can you help?

From time to time, The Land Trust for Tennessee acquires land through purchases and donations. We typically transfer ownership of the land to another entity or individual with a conservation easement in place. Please contact us to discuss your options.

Can you help me donate my land to become a public park?

Our goal is to help you achieve your land conservation goals. We have worked with multiple landowners and partners to create or expand public parks based on the wishes of the landowner. Please contact us to discuss your options.

Conservation Easements

How does a conservation easement protect land?

These voluntary legal agreements made between a landowner and The Land Trust for Tennessee protect lands with important conservation values forever. The landowner continues to own and manage the land while permanently limiting how the land may be developed and subdivided, no matter who owns the land. It is our job as a land trust to make sure these agreements are upheld and enforced, always.

Do I continue to own and manage the land?

Yes. A conservation easement does not transfer ownership of a property. The landowner still owns and manages the property, and can use it, sell it, or leave it to heirs, but the easement stays with the land permanently.

While you must follow the terms of the easement, you continue to make day-to-day management decisions.

Can I still use my land?

Yes. Landowners can continue to farm, fish, hunt, manage timber, and even build additional structures or homes based on the rights they reserve in their conservation easement.

Does the agreement have an end date?

No. Conservation easements are written to be upheld in perpetuity. In other words, there is no end date or expiration to these agreements.

What happens if I want to sell or transfer the land?

The conservation easement will still be in effect and the terms of the agreement apply to all future owners of the property. A conservation easement ‘runs with the land.’

How does The Land Trust for Tennessee uphold its conservation easements?

Through our stewardship program, we visit every protected property annually, help landowners understand how a conservation easement applies to their land, and work with landowners when they wish to do things like add structures or manage a forest. We work with landowners to remedy easement violations, and in some cases, we may take legal action to uphold the terms of a conservation easement.

What are the benefits of donating a conservation easement?

Donating a conservation easement provides landowners with peace of mind that their land will be conserved for future generations. Landowners may also be eligible for significant tax benefits.

Would the agreement be tailored to my land?

Yes. The terms of every conservation easement are tailored to conserve each property’s specific conservation values and meet the personal needs of the landowner.

For example, a farm might be protected by an agreement that allows continued farming and building of additional barns and structures for agriculture. A scenic estate near a fast-developing area might be conserved by an agreement that allows one or more future home sites on the land that’s not visible from the highway. For a property that is home to rare animals or plants, the agreement might prohibit development of any kind. It all depends on the property and your goals.

What are reserved rights?

When you own land, you also own many rights associated with it. These might include rights to harvest timber, build structures, subdivide the property, mine resources, grow crops and so on (subject to zoning and other restrictions).

When you grant a conservation easement to a land trust, you permanently limit or extinguish some of these rights. Each conservation easement is unique, tailored to meet the landowner’s wishes for their land and protect the conservation values of the property. Depending on the land and circumstances, certain rights can be “reserved” within the conservation easement but may require permission from The Land Trust for Tennessee in order to exercise, such as construction of new structures or roads or the establishment of building envelopes.

Land Owners

When should I contact The Land Trust for Tennessee?

We encourage you to contact us any time you have questions about your conservation easement. There are multiple activities that may require our input or approval. As a general rule, it’s always a good idea to contact us before making any substantial changes.

For example, you should always contact our Stewardship team before:

  • Selling or transferring your conserved land
  • Building any new structure
  • Starting any new timber management activity
  • Making any other substantial change on your land

Click here for a detailed list of activities that may require our input (PDF).

Who should I contact with questions about the conservation easement on my land?

Please contact a member of our stewardship team at (615)244-5263 or email us.

What are reserved rights and how do I use them?

When you own land, you also own many rights associated with it. These might include rights to harvest timber, build structures, subdivide the property, mine resources, grow crops and so on (subject to zoning and other restrictions).

When you grant a conservation easement to a land trust, you permanently limit or extinguish some of these rights. Each conservation easement is unique, tailored to meet the landowner’s wishes for their land and protect the conservation values of the property. Certain rights can be “reserved” within the conservation easement but may require permission from The Land Trust for Tennessee in order to exercise, such as construction of new structures or roads or the establishment of building envelopes.

We work to make this process as seamless as possible through our Reserved Right Request Form. Once we receive all pertinent information, we will respond to the request within 30 days, and we are typically able to respond within one week.

Ready to do something new on your land?
When will The Land Trust for Tennessee visit my property?

We visit properties protected with a conservation easement every year. Our “monitoring season” is typically January through April, so you can expect a staff member or a trained stewardship volunteer to contact you during that time.

What happens during the annual monitoring visit?

Members of The Land Trust staff or trained volunteers will walk the property, take photos and notes for our records and visit with you if you are available. The focus of the visit will be to document any changes since the last monitoring visit. It is also a great time to share any questions or concerns you may have and discuss future plans.

Do I need to be present for my annual visit from The Land Trust for Tennessee?

We encourage you to be present if possible. We always enjoy visiting with landowners, but we understand if you are not available at the time we are able to visit. We may also conduct additional visits during times of construction, to gather information in regards to a reserved right request, out of concern of a potential issue or for other reasons.

What happens if there is a violation of my easement?

Our goal is to stay in close contact with landowners so violations are avoided. In the event an accidental or unintended violation does occur, we are legally obligated to enforce the easement. However, we always aim to maintain a positive, collaborative relationship with landowners to work towards a resolution.

Who can I call if I need assistance with managing my land?

We have partners across the state who may be able to help you meet your land management goals and requirements. Click here for a list of resources.

How do you determine your stewardship requirements?

We operate our stewardship program in accordance with The Land Trust Alliance’s Standards and Practices.