Land ProtectionConserving Wisconsin’s natural legacy for everyone, forever.
Photo: Private Conservation Easement – Washburn County, WI
Do you own land that you would like to see conserved for the benefit of future generations?
Need some inspiration? Read about two projects completed this past year.
Strategic Land Protection
In 2018 Landmark embarked on an ambitious endeavor to develop a strategic conservation focus that will result in the protection of targeted areas rich in biodiversity and resilient to climate change. We believe that conserving larger, intact tracts of land will aid terrestrial and aquatic species in adapting to habitats that are evolving at an increasingly rapid pace. Working with partners and agencies, including The Nature Conservancy science staff, we overlaid our conservation priorities with areas having the greatest potential for resilience to climate change. Our process emphasizes the ecological connectivity of natural landscapes and habitat in and around Conservation Opportunity Areas (COAs), and further incorporates climate science.
This effort resulted in the established 17 focus areas in our service area that meet our conservation objective of Ecological Resiliency in the face of a changing climate. Of those, we have selected three areas in which we will prioritize new landowner outreach: the Lake Superior South Shore Streams, the Upper Eau Claire River and Barrens, and the St. Croix River Watershed.
2020-2021 Impact Report
Landmark Conservancy is a nonprofit land trust protecting natural resources in northwestern Wisconsin that we all value: clean water, healthy soils, habitat for wildlife, sustainable food sources, and the space to enjoy nature’s gifts.
During our 2019-20 fiscal year, we completed 6 projects, conserving a total of 1,339.65 acres and 54,300 feet of shoreline.
Our focus for new land protection includes targeted areas identified as resilient to climate change, community supported recreational areas, and various private landowner inquiries.
Landmark is working to develop ‘ambassador sites’ with the goals of providing additional recreational opportunities. We’re also working on outreach related to climate change and what areas, because of their geological and physical characteristics, will continue to support ecological diversity under a rapidly changing climate.
Our Service Area
Landmark Conservancy’s full service map is displayed below.
Blue Dots = Private Conservation Projects – Projects on private land that protect agricultural lands and diverse ecological communities including prairies, forests, wetlands, rivers, and lakes.
Orange Dots = Projects With Public Access – Projects that provide opportunities for public nature-based outdoor activities including hiking, fishing, hunting, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and nature study.
Service Area Map
Click the Service Area Map button to view an interactive Google map showing all land conservation projects that include public access.
Select a map view.
What's a Land Trust?
Depending on your property and goals, you may choose to work with Landmark Conservancy to place a conservation easement on the property, sell or donate the property to the Landmark Conservancy, or work with Landmark to convey the property to a government agency or municipality for public use.
What is a Land Trust?
Land conservation, in all its forms, is essential to the health and beauty of Wisconsin. Land trusts are non-profit organizations that help protect land for public benefit. “Land trust” or “Conservancy” are terms used to describe the conservation organizations that own land, hold conservation easements and work in pursuit of permanent land protection.
What do Land Trusts protect?
How do Land Trusts work?
Who manages the Land Trust?
While some land trusts are volunteer-led, Landmark Conservancy is managed by a professional staff that adheres to national accreditation standards, and is overseen by a Board of Directors.
There are a variety of options that give landowners the flexibility to meet their needs while providing lasting conservation benefits. These may include significant income and estate tax incentives that should be considered in consultation with legal and financial advisors.
Depending on your property and goals, you may choose to work with Landmark Conservancy to place a conservation easement on the property, sell or donate the property to the Landmark, or work with Landmark to convey the property to a government agency or municipality for public use. All conservation real estate projects must be reviewed and approved by the Landmark Conservancy Board of Directors.
If you are interested in exploring your options, you should consult with your financial and legal advisors to learn more about how working with Landmark Conservancy might help you meet your conservation and financial goals. Start by completing the Landowner Questionnaire.
Click each of the six options displayed below to determine which is a good fit for you.
A conservation easement is a real estate interest in land that is conveyed by the owner of the land to a conservation organization like Landmark Conservancy to preserve the natural and scenic values of the property. The landowner continues to own the land itself, and the conservation easement imposes restrictions on its future use and development.
Who can “hold” a conservation easement?
A qualified nonprofit, tax-exempt conservation organization such as Landmark Conservancy can hold a conservation easement, as well as can federal, state or local units of government.
Who decides what restrictions are included in a conservation easement?
The landowner and the land trust decide together what is needed to protect the land’s conservation values and meet the needs of the landowner’s family. Every property is unique, and so are the restrictions in a conservation easement to protect its natural and scenic values.
If I donate a conservation easement, does the land trust have an ownership interest in my land?
A conservation easement is a legal non-possessory real estate interest in land. Once a conservation easement is conveyed, the easement holder has the legal right to enforce the terms of the easement. The landowner still owns and manages the land and is responsible for paying property taxes.
What are the easement holder’s roles and responsibilities?
When a land trust accepts a conservation easement, it takes on perpetual obligations to monitor the property and enforce the easement terms. Once a conservation easement is established, the land trust conducts annual site inspections to ensure adherence to all the conservation easement’s terms and conditions.
In the event that the terms of an easement are violated, the easement holder is accountable for making sure any damage to the conservation values on the land is repaired. The easement holder has the right and responsibility to take legal action, if necessary, to enforce conservation easements.
Does a conservation easement grant public access to land?
Conservation easements do not typically grant public access, although varying levels of public access to protected land can be addressed in the terms of an easement if that is mutually acceptable to the landowner and the easement holder.
What effect does a conservation easement have on a landowner’s ability to sell, develop or pass the land to heirs?
While the restrictions defined in a conservation easement run with the property forever, land protected in this way can be sold, passed to heirs or otherwise transferred. The easement holder continues its job in perpetuity regardless of ownership.
What are the financial or tax benefits of donating a conservation easement?
The value of a conservation easement donated to a qualified organization may be deductible for tax purposes if it meets federal tax code requirements.
How is the value of a conservation easement determined?
The value of a conservation easement is the difference between the property’s appraised fair market value before and after the conservation easement is conveyed. Conservation easement values vary greatly: in general, the highest value easements are those placing broad restrictions against development on open space under intense development pressure.
The value of conservation easements is heavily influenced by the specific terms of each easement and the land which is encumbered. Any attempt to estimate the value of an easement before those terms are defined is speculative, at best. Conservation easement values, either for purchase or for tax-deduction purposes, must be determined by a qualified third-party appraiser and must meet specific IRS appraisal requirements.
Will a conservation easement reduce property taxes?
Under Wisconsin law, local property tax assessors are required to consider the effect of a conservation easement when setting the taxable value of the property. But in practice, assessments of conservation easement land vary widely, and landowners should not expect a reduction in property taxes.
Can a conservation easement be undone?
Conservation easements are permanent. In rare or extreme circumstances, conservation easements can be extinguished by judicial proceedings in a court of competent jurisdiction.
Donating land to Landmark Conservancy is a way to leave a lasting legacy to future generations. Many of our favorite parks and nature preserves are here today because of the foresight and generosity of private landowners.
Donating your land to Landmark Conservancy may suit your needs if you are not leaving your land to heirs, no longer use the land and financial consideration is not important. It’s very important to contact the land trust early in the process when you are considering this option. Your land may be a candidate for a permanent nature preserve or have other natural attributes worth permanent protection.
It may also be possible to donate a property now and retain the right to live on and use the property during your lifetime. This is known as a “reserved life estate.”
Sometimes a unique piece of land warrants permanent protection and/or public access through acquisition. Landowners can sell their land to a land trust for the full appraised market value, provided the land trust can raise the necessary funds.
- Because of the time and resources required to raise these funds, a land trust carefully evaluates these opportunities to align the land with the sources.
- Raising funds for acquisition can take a while. Working in partnership with a seller committed to conservation can alleviate some of the issues faced by the land trust.
- If the property will require considerable land management or restoration, endowment funds will need to be secured.
Landowners sell their land to a land trust at a price below the appraised fair market value. The difference between the fair market value and the actual sale price may be considered a non-cash charitable donation and may contain significant income tax benefits.
- A bargain sale of land can offer an opportunity to offset income achieved by the sale with the deductible portion of the transaction
- As with a traditional sale of the land, raising funds for acquisition can take a while. Working in partnership with a seller committed to conservation can alleviate some of the issues faced by the land trust.
Partner & Community Assistance
Landmark Conservancy is often approached by community groups, local units of government and other conservation partners to assist with conservation transactions that protect important ecological land and community park space.
- Many community groups and partners have conservation or recreational goals but may not have experience in purchasing or protecting land. Landmark may be able to assist in a number of ways including outright purchase of land, serving as an interim buyer, assisting in grant writing and administration or establishing a Landmark nature preserve in the community.
- Partner and community projects can be some of the most important and fulfilling projects to undertake, engaging citizens and utilizing the strengths of all partners involved.
Non-Conservation Land Donation
Land and property with minimal conservation value can be donated to Landmark Conservancy to generate important revenue for Landmark conservation programs and general operating. Landmark lists the property with an agent and sells the property in an ordinary real estate transaction.
Landmark conservation staff investigates all land and property inquiries to determine if there is sufficient conservation value to warrant permanent protection. Weighing the conservation values of a potential project against the opportunity cost and organizational resources required helps determine our ability to permanently protect and steward a potential project and serve the greater needs of conservation in Wisconsin.
Landmark staff works with donors of potential non-conservation land and fully discloses any intentions to sell or otherwise convey donated property.
The acceptance, holding and disposition of all land and property must be approved by Landmark Conservancy’s Board of Directors.
A bequest is also called a “donation by devise” and transfers ownership of your property to a land trust through your will. This is a good choice if financial compensation is not a necessity and you want to maintain the current use of your land. In addition, this option can confer estate tax benefits.
Longtime supporter Ellen Nelson passed away in September 2018, leaving a generous gift of land to Landmark Conservancy in her will. Ellen was a teacher and her husband Millard worked for Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service (ASCS) for many years. They were very conscientious of land conservation and preventing erosion. They planted many trees over the years on any land they owned, and enjoyed gardening, watching birds and wildlife, and taking nature walks together on their property.
When Ellen and Millard acquired a hilly 90-acre parcel in the Town of Salem in southern Pierce County, they were concerned about extensive erosion that had taken place. They planted trees and put a conservation easement on the property to protect the land in perpetuity. While we will continue to protect this land through annual monitoring, the Board of Directors has determined that this gift can do the most good for our organization through a private sale to support the ongoing development and stewardship of Landmark’s conservation initiatives.
Landmark Conservancy is a nonprofit, tax-exempt charitable organization under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Donations are tax-deductible as allowed by law.