Skip to main content

Overview

The District has acquired a total of 27 conservation easements.

When purchasing conservation easements, also known as “less-than-fee” purchases, the District attempts to acquire only those rights in property, i.e., development and land use conversion rights, that are needed to accomplish specific water resource and environmental protection goals. 

Such less-than-fee methods can clearly provide a number of public benefits.  One is that acquisition funding can be conserved, thereby enabling the protection of more land with limited funds.  The property also continues in private ownership and thus may also remain on local property tax rolls.  Moreover, the District does not incur the long-term costs of land management since the property’s management and maintenance remains the landowner’s responsibility.  Not all properties are suitable nor are all landowners agreeable to less-than-fee acquisition, but the benefits make these kinds of transactions an attractive supplement to the District’ usual fee simple land purchases.

Conservation Easements (by Area)

Area

Total Acres in Less Than Fee

Apalachicola  River

2,359.5

Econfina Creek

2,433.35

St. Marks River

659.33

Ochlockonee River

3,674.53

Spring Creek

716.26

Escambia River

18.7

Perdido River

4.2

Choctawhatchee River and Holmes Creek

2,537.56

What is a conservation easement?

A conservation easement is a perpetual, undivided interest in property that may be created in a variety of ways. It may be created through a voluntary, legal agreement between a private landowner and a government agency or a qualified nonprofit group, and is designed to conserve open space, water recharge areas, environmentally sensitive lands, wildlife habitat or historic features on a specific parcel of land.

Conservation easements may be donated or sold to the Northwest Florida Water Management District by landowners. Often conservation easements are proposed to offset environmental impacts from development and, in these instances, they are a component of a mitigation plan for a permit issued by the District, or another permitting agency such as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) or the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE).

As legal documents, conservation easements are recorded in the public records of the county in which the property is located.

Are there restrictions in conservation easements?

Conservation easements give the District certain, specific rights to the property, but do not grant outright land ownership to the District. Through the easement, the landowner retains title to the land but gives up certain rights or uses. Many times, the restrictions imposed by the easement document safeguard the land by prohibiting the construction of buildings or other structures, excavating soil, or removing or destroying trees or native vegetation. For example, a cattle rancher may enter into a conservation easement agreement whereby he or she continues to ranch under certain mutually agreed upon conditions and practices but gives up the right to extract minerals or develop residential communities on the property.

How long do conservation easements last?

Conservation easements are perpetual. They are transferred with the land from owner to owner when the property is sold and remain enforceable after the issuance of a tax deed. The landowner can either donate the easement or be paid for it. Easements may be specifically tailored to meet the needs of both the landowner and the District.

Why are conservation easements necessary?

Conservation easements allow landowners and the District to preserve land and protect water resources, while still allowing landowners certain rights to their lands.

What rights and responsibilities does the landowner retain?

The landowner retains fee ownership of the land and all rights associated with the property not specifically relinquished in the conservation easement. Any use that does not conflict with the purpose and terms of the easement is permissible, including selling the land and bequeathing it by will. The landowner’s responsibilities include those specified in the easement. The payment of property taxes is still a responsibility of the landowner, but a reduction in that amount is one of the possible tax benefits available to landowners.

What rights and responsibilities does the District have?

The District has the right to make sure that the conditions defined in the conservation easement are followed. The District has the right to access the land for inspections or other reasons established in the terms and conditions of the conservation easement document. If the terms of the easement are violated, the District has the right to seek enforcement remedies.

Do I have a conservation easement on my property?

Any conservation easements recorded in public records prior to the purchase of your property will be included in the title search. Because an easement is recorded in public records, the public, including landowners, are put on notice that the easement exists. The conservation easement document or the recorded plat for your subdivision should contain a legal description and sketch, showing the location and dimensions of the preserved area on your property.

While the boundary of a conservation easement may be permanently marked with survey posts or stakes, as with any property boundary, only a survey by a certified land surveyor can accurately delineate the boundary of a conservation easement.

What activities are generally prohibited on conservation easements?

Conservation easements exist to preserve natural lands, so any activity that alters a conservation easement area is typically prohibited. Specific restrictions are listed in the conservation easement document.

What options are available for land management activities in a conservation easement held by the District?

If the conservation easement was donated to the District for mitigation, the permittee should consult with District staff to prepare a management plan to meet water resource and habitat values for the specific piece of property. This may include the use of prescribed fire or roller chopping to remove undergrowth to reduce the risk of wildfire or the use of herbicides to remove exotic plants. Specifics will be listed in a written document such as a permit or letter from the District.

Otherwise, management of the property may be governed by a District land management plan.

Are conservation easements open to the public?

Typically, conservation easements do not grant the right of public access.