Conservation Buyers

By the Land Trust Alliance

Conservation Buyer Transactions or Programs are used by conservation organizations across the country as a way to protect properties in private ownership. By working with purchasers attracted to the natural, cultural, historic, and agricultural values of available properties, land trusts can help conservation buyers acquire such properties and ensure their long-term protection.

What is a “conservation buyer”?

A conservation buyer is a real-estate purchaser whose interest in the natural, agricultural, scenic, or historic attributes of a property steers them toward working with a land trust to protect these values in perpetuity with a conservation easement. A buyer’s passion for lands and water can manifest itself in many ways -- bird watching, trout fishing, cultural heritage -- which often makes them innately well-suited partners for conservation.

How does it work?

In a typical conservation buyer transaction, a land trust protects a property by identifying a buyer who is willing to purchase conservation land and subsequently donate a conservation easement on it to the land trust. There are many variations on these transactions, such as:

  • the land trust purchases an option to buy a conservation easement from the buyer,
  • the land trust has a strong enough relationship with the buyer to trust him or her to donate the easements.
  • the land trust itself purchases the land and resells it to a conservation buyer, reserving an easement.

What are the challenges to a conservation buyer program?

Conservation buyer transactions often require fortunate timing and a nimble matchmaker to identify conservation-minded buyers and point them to conservation lands on the market. There are times when the needs of buyer, seller and land trust converge, and a conservation buyer steps up just in time to purchase and protect a high priority conservation property. Often, the match is more difficult to arrange, perhaps because of scarce buyers, too much or too little conservation land for sale, reluctant sellers, expensive land prices, or a lack of understanding among buyers, sellers or their professional advisors about conservation easements and conservation buyer programs.

Why go through a conservation buyer at all?

If a conservation buyer purchases land with an existing easement - then the purchase price is usually below the market value of surrounding property. But conservation buyer programs are not set up for the purpose of keeping purchase prices low. Generally, people who participate in these programs want to conserve land with particular natural attributes - they buy land (identified by a land trust) that has certain conservation values and then they donate an easement to the land trust - and in return will often receive the tax benefits associated with the donation.  

Additional Resources

Land Trust Alliance members can access comprehensive resources on this and other topics from its Learning Center. 

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