Land conservation is an action to permanently conserve the natural, scenic, agricultural, historical, forested or open space character or uses of real property.  This can include water resources as well.  There are no limitations on the type of land – it may be in dense urban settings, remote rural lands or anywhere in between.  The essential element is that it must have one or more of these characteristics or uses.

Many landowners willingly take steps to responsibly steward their land so that important resources are conserved.  Sadly, their work can be undone by a subsequent owner or by condemnation by a public agency who wants to use the land for other purposes.

The term “land conservation” is commonly used to distinguish those specific actions that provide legal protections so that the resources are not damaged or lost to future actions. These legal protections will endure beyond any single landowner.

Land can be conserved in several different ways.  The method used is determined by the conservation goals for the property, the landowner’s preferences, and available funding.  The two most common methods is that the property is conveyed in its entirety (“fee title”) to a land trust or public agency, or a conservation easement is conveyed to a land trust or public agency.  

In California, the fee title or conservation easement is often sold so that the landowner receives funds, but fee title/easements can also be donated for significant tax benefits, or a there can be a mix of sale and donation (known as a “bargain sale”).

Conservation Tools

There are many different tools providing varying levels of protection for land and its resources. These tools can be divided into two categories: direct protection and protective governmental policies. Direct protection tools include: acquiring land (fee title or fee simple), conservation easements, land swaps, transfer of development rights, and limiting development rights. Policy tools such as general plans, urban growth boundaries, municipal service reviews, specific plans, overlay/special area zoning, development codes, and conservation planning can be used to guide development and protect areas valued by a community. Land trusts generally utilize direct protection tools of acquiring land or conservation easements from willing sellers.

Conservation Horizons

The California Council of Land Trusts created the Conservation Horizons initiative to ensure that conservation’s future is as successful as our past has been. Changes in culture, demographics, politics, finances and climate are spurring us to reconsider organizations, priorities, methods and funding. Most importantly, we need to understand who our conservation programs are serving, with whom we are working and what else we need to conserve—considering our relationships to both people and land—along the way.

The Conservation Horizons Committee helped lead, shape, describe and offer pathways for the land trust community and its partners into our collective future.

Download Final Report (PDF)

Conservation Frontiers (Resources and Reports)

The Seriousness of Play (PDF)
The Importance of Outdoor Play to the Future of Conservation

Wading Deep (PDF)
The Importance of Hydrological Monitoring
Andy Zdon

Mitigation and Tax Deductions (PDF)
Where Angels Fear to Tread
Lucinda Calvo

New Era of Local Opportunities for Land Trusts (PDF)

Getting Down in the Dirt & Out in the Field n(PDF)
The New Standards for Due Diligence
Shelton Douthit and Zoe Ahnstrom

Using Real Estate Transfer Fees to Deliver Community Projects (PDF)