Ways to Conserve Land
"Conservation easements have helped thousands of families protect the land that they cherish. With a conservation easement, you permanently protect your land, without giving up ownership."
-Ontario Land Trust Alliance
A conservation easement (also known as a covenant) is a voluntary legal agreement between a landowner and a third party, usually a conservation organization like Ontario Nature, to protect land. In legal terms, a conservation easement is registered on title, remaining in force if the land is sold or transferred to a new owner. The terms and conditions of a conservation easement are negotiated between the landowner and the organization holding the easement. Easements are tailor-made, and can be designed to protect an entire property, or only those features cherished by the landowner - whether it is a pond, historical building or tract of woodland. The role of the conservation organization is to monitor the management of the easement property to ensure that agreed restrictions are being honoured. Easements are intended to help landowners, like you, protect important features of your land forever. For more information on easements, contact Tanya Pulfer, Ontario Nature's conservation science manager at email@example.com or 416-444-8419 ext. 264.
Title transfers: You may wish to protect your land for the future by transferring the title to your property now, or arranging to do so at a later date. Donating or selling your land to a conservation organization will ensure long-term protection for your property, and does not necessarily entail your loss of access to that land while you or your family is alive. In fact, there are ways to structure a donation that allow you to receive a life income from your land. There are several options available for the donation or sale of a property, some of which include:
- Giving or selling your land to an organization with a conservation mandate such as Ontario Nature
- Reserving a "life estate" when you give or sell the land, meaning that you or a family member can continue to live on the property
- Transfer your land with a charitable gift annuity or unitrust, which would allow you to receive regular annuity payments from the charity to whom the land was donated
- Selling or donating the land, and then leasing all or a portion of it back for a certain period
- Specifying a charitable gift through a bequest in your will - either of funds for land acquisition or of land
- Establishing a private trust to ensure that the property is used only for certain purposes
- Granting a "right of first refusal" to a conservation organization so that Ontario Nature or another group has the first chance to buy the property, if and when you decide to sell it
If you are considering a gift of land, the group to whom you are donating a property will likely ask you to consider an additional gift of management funds. Gifts of land come with ancillary costs such as appraisals, surveys, severances, legal fees, and on going costs from things such as fencing, signage and liability insurance. A responsible conservation organization will want to ensure they have the funds to properly care for your land.
Selling or donating land may involve large tax liabilities. To counteract this fact, Ontario Nature and other charitable organizations can issue an income tax receipt for donated land that you can use as a tax credit to reduce your annual taxes. When qualifying ecological lands are donated, significant tax advantages can be realized through the Ecological Gifts Program.
Ecological gifts: Since 1995, Canada's Ecological Gifts Program has existed to help land donors and recipients ensure that donated land is protected in perpetuity. This is accomplished by certifying land donations as ecological gifts. Certification results not only in federally recognized protection, but in numerous tax benefits under the Income Tax Act. Private and corporate landowners who donate land, a conservation easement or a covenant through the Ecological Gifts Program can receive a tax receipt for the value of the donation, which can be used against 100% of their annual income. The unused portion of this receipt can be carried forward for up to five subsequent years. And only 25 percent of the value of capital gains is subject to income tax.
In order to be certified, a property needs to meet at least one of thirty criteria established for Ontario. Criteria vary from lands designated as nationally or provincially significant areas to land that provides local wildlife habitat or an ecological link in the landscape. Once the land is certified, the donor can choose to donate land or an interest in land - such as a conservation easement - to the Crown, an incorporated municipality or a qualified charitable conservation organization, such as the Ontario Nature or a local land trust.
For more information on the Ecological Gifts program, contact Tanya Pulfer, Ontario Nature's acting conservation science manager at firstname.lastname@example.org or 416-444-8419 ext. 264. Or visit the Ecological Gifts webpage at www.cws-scf.ec.gc.ca/ecogifts.