For Landowners

Conservation Easements

A conservation easement is a practical way for landowners to protect land from inappropriate future development while retaining their ownership. Easements permanently protect land from uses that could damage or destroy its scenic, recreational, ecological, agricultural, woodland, or historic values. Easements are donated to a non-profit conservation organization such as Great Works Regional Land Trust (GWRLT) or a public agency, which inspects the land periodically and enforces the restrictions in perpetuity. Each easement is tailored to fit the natural characteristics of the land, the personal needs of the owners, and the objectives of the conservation organization or agency.

Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about conservation easements.

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Maine’s Tree Growth and Farm and Open Space Laws

Maine has two programs that help landowners preserve undeveloped lands and reduce property tax burdens by taxing the land on the basis of its current use rather than its higher development value. These are the Tree Growth and Farm and Open Space laws. They are similar in that they can be applicable to small tracts of land (5 to 10 acres), they require ‘active’ participation by the landowners to maintain their status, including an initial application, and they exact a penalty if the land is withdrawn from the program.’,’ Not all of a parcel needs to be placed in a program as long as the minimum acreage is met. A portion of a property can be left out to allow for other uses without incurring a withdrawal penalty. The withdrawal penalty does not have to be paid when the land is sold, given away, or inherited as long as its use remains the same. If it does become necessary to withdraw a portion of the property, the penalty is restricted only to the portion withdrawn for other uses, not the whole parcel.

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Public Access and the Landowner’s Liability

You are considering taking steps to preserve your land, but you are worried about some of the legal aspects. If you place a conservation easement on your property, does that mean you’ll have hikers and snowmobilers all over? What if someone sprains an ankle? Will you get sued?

Relax. First of all, Maine landowners who allow the public access to their property for recreation are specifically protected by Statue 14 MSRA Sec. 159-A: “An owner, lessee, or occupant of premises shall owe no duty of care to keep the premises safe for entry or use by others for recreational or harvesting activities or to give warning of any hazardous condition, use, structure, or activity on these premises to persons entering for those purposes.',' This statute is not an iron-clad defense against being sued, but it does make it a lot harder for anyone to win a suit. To understand why, you need to know some basic principles of liability: People are usually sued because someone thinks they failed in some legal duty. In other words, someone thinks they were negligent.

What duties do landowners have towards people on their property?

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