Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District

Conservation Easements

The District uses a range of tools to protect private land. The most common is a “conservation easement,” which is a legal agreement between a landowner and a land trust or government agency that permanently limits uses of the land to protect its conservation values. However, we will buy land outright in some cases, or enter into perpetual agreements that require resource enhancement or particular management practices.

The process of working with the District to protect your land takes time. A typical conservation easement project takes between 1½ to 2 years, with four basic components: project evaluation, project structure, appraisal, approvals and escrow.

Conservation Easement – How it works
Conservation Easement – When to sell or donate
Conservation Easement – How it is valued
Property Sale
Perpetual Management or Use Commitment
Property Information Sheet (Application)

Conservation Easement – How it works

The most traditional tool for conserving private land is a “conservation easement,” which is a legal agreement between a landowner and a land trust or government agency that permanently limits uses of the land in order to protect its conservation values. It allows landowners to continue to own and use their land, and to sell or pass on the property to heirs. Subsequent owners are obligated to use the land under the terms of the conservation easement. The conservation easement is binding in perpetuity – in other words, forever.

Conservation easements are used to achieve a variety of conservation purposes, including agricultural preservation, open space and scenic resource preservation, and natural resource protection.

When you donate or sell a conservation easement to the District, you give up some of the rights associated with the land. For example, you might give up the right to build additional structures, while retaining the right to grow crops. Future owners also will be bound by the easement’s terms. The District’s stewardship staff monitors properties to ensure the terms of the conservation agreement are being met.

A conservation easement is a flexible tool, and is tailored for each specific property based on the common preservation goals of the landowner and the holder of the easement. An easement on property containing rare wildlife habitat or scenic landscapes might prohibit any development, for example, while an easement on a farm might allow continued farming and the addition of agricultural structures. An easement over forest land might restrict timber harvests to sustainable levels.  A conservation easement does not require public access.

A conservation easement is an excellent tool for families who wish to keep their land intact to pass on to the next generation or to allow farmers to continue working their land, while generating needed income. Meanwhile, landowners retain title to the land and continue to occupy and use the lands under the terms of the conservation easement.


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Conservation Easement – When to sell or donate

  • If you need to sell your land but don’t want to see it subdivided or developed, you can work with the District prior to the sale to place a conservation easement on the land before it goes on the market.
  • If you want to protect your land and could use additional income to retain your ownership or to enhance the property or agricultural operation, you can work with the District to place a conservation easement on your land at any time.
  • If you want to buy land and prices are out of your reach, you can work with the District during the sale to place a conservation easement on the land at the time you purchase the property, thus reducing the cost to you. This is called a simultaneous transaction.
  • If you want to buy additional land, you can work with the District during the sale to place a conservation easement on land you already own and then use the proceeds to purchase additional land. You can also simultaneously place a conservation easement on the land you are purchasing, which will reduce the cost of the purchase to you.

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Conservation Easement – How it is valued

The District hires an independent third party appraiser to appraise the conservation easement and determine its fair market value. The appraiser does this by valuing the land before placement of the conservation easement and after placement of the conservation easement. The difference in those two values is the value of the conservation easement itself. The more restrictive the conservation easement is, the more market value it will have that the landowner can donate or sell to the District.


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Property Sale

A landowner may sell property to the District if the property provides desired future recreational opportunities in addition to other open space benefits. We will then transfer the land to a state, regional, or local public entity or non-profit organization; or resell the property subject to a conservation easement. In some cases, the District may lease the property or a portion of the property to a farmer or rancher until such time that we transfer the property to another entity.


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Perpetual Management or Use Commitment

A landowner may enter into a legally-binding agreement with the District that affirmatively requires a particular management or use of the property in perpetuity. For example, a Preservation Agreement may require that enhancements be made to a riparian corridor. Or an Affirmative Agricultural Easement may require that the property remain in agriculture. The value of these agreements can be donated to or purchased by the District.


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Property Information Sheet (Application)

Interested in working with the District to protect your agricultural or open space property? Please fill out this Property Information Sheet and mail or email the completed, signed application to:

Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation & Open Space District
747 Mendocino Avenue, Suite 100
Santa Rosa, CA 95401
OPENSPACE@sonoma-county.org

Questions? Contact Curtis Kendall at curtis.kendall@sonoma-county.org or 707/565.7351.


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