Conservation Easement Definition

Conservation Easement Definition

The best conservation easement definition that I’ve heard is as follows.

A conservation easement is a voluntary agreement between a land owner and an organization that says here are the reserved rights and here are the extinguished rights. Reserved rights could be the right to sell the property or the right to give it away. An extinguished right could be the right to subdivide (or to divide a large property into many small lots).”

Image of George Cofer Hill Country Conservancy Director

George Cofer, Director of Hill Country Conservancy

This informal definition was provided by George Cofer, Executive Director at the Hill Country Conservancy, a non-profit that protects open space in Central Texas. I thought I knew what a conversation easement was before listening to George speak to the CTAEP. But George’s conservation easement definition and example story of the Dahlstrom Ranch painted a much clearer picture in my mind of how a conservation easement works in the wild.

Conservation Easement Example: The Dahlstrom Ranch

In a nutshell, Ms. Gay Dahlstrom approached the Hill Country Conservancy about conserving her family’s 2,254 acre ranch located near Buda, Texas (south of Austin). Ms. Dahlstrom’s vision for her family’s property included that the historic cattle ranch never be subdivided, a preserved natural area for public use and the continuation of the CenTex Quarry also located on the property. The Dahlstrom Ranch is considered a valuable community resource, because it’s located in a sensitive aquifer recharge area, contains numerous karst features that drain into the Edwards Aquifer and provides habitat for native wildlife and plant species.

Image of Dahlstrom Ranch, a property that helps explain the HCC's Conservation Easement Definition.

Dahlstrom Ranch. Image source:

As some point in the conservation easement negotiation, a land use planner and an appraiser were called in. The development rights for the property were appraised at $21 million. Hays County, the City of Austin and the Hill Country Conservancy along with funding from the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service purchased the development rights for $9 million.

Benefits to the Land Owner

  • $9 million in cash
  • Tax credits
  • Their property and family legacy will be protected
  • Economic benefits from the continuation of the CenTex Quarry

Benefits to the Community

  • Protection of an Environmentally Sensitive Area
  • A 384-acre natural area for public education and activities
  • Protection of a historic cattle ranch
  • Protection of open, natural space in the quickly urbanizing Austin area

One benefit of conservation easements is their flexibility. Each conservation easement is unique and can be negotiated to protect the family’s vision, the family’s economic needs, community resources and environmental considerations. Head over the Hill County Conservancy (HCC) for more information about the Dahlstrom Ranch conservation easement. The HCC is putting on a conservation easement workshop on March 25, 2011.

Other Interesting Facts the Hill County

  • Texas leads all other states in loss of rural & farmland.
  • From 1990 to 2005, Texas lost 8 million acres to urban use. That’s the size of Maryland.
  • The average age in Austin 29.
  • 3 important things to the Austin creative class: Hill Country, Jobs & 6th Street.
  • 30,000 people move to Austin a year. Growth at this rate results in population pressure on the Hill Country.

Any thoughts? Did George’s conservation easement definition and story about the Dahlstrom ranch help clarify what a conservation easement is in your mind, too?

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