Yes, California real property law recognizes conservation easements which are, in the simplest form, an agreement between a landowner and a certain qualified public entity, such as a County or City, or a private entity, such as a nonprofit corporation, conservation foundation, or conservation trust, to protect the natural character of the land. One of California’s most important environmental assets is land preserved in its natural state. Recognizing this, the concept of conservation easements was adopted in California in 1979 to encourage landowner participation in the preservation of land in its natural, scenic, agricultural, historical, forested, or open-space condition.

Under a conversation easement, the landowner retains possession and ownership of the property but transfers through a grant to a qualified public or private entity some or all of certain rights in the property, e.g., the right to subdivide, the right to construct buildings, the right to park commercial vehicles, etc.  The qualified public or private entity then becomes responsible for preserving the land and enforcing the conservation values stated in the grant.  Through enforcement of the conservation values, the entity can then prevent others from using the land in such a way that compromises the land’s natural state.  All the while, the landowner continues to stay in possession and own and use the property.

Generally, conservation easements are intended to exist in perpetuity. However, it is possible to have a conservation easement terminate after a certain period of time depending on the negotiated terms of the agreement.   Conservation easements are most commonly used with large parcels of land, such as those with 50 or more acres, rather than smaller parcels of land. The reason is that these complex agreements are time consuming and expensive to draft, put in place, and enforce. In order to justify the time and expense, the land sought to be protected under a conservation easement should be of size and character making it worthwhile for the qualified public or private entity to monitor and preserve and enforce the conservation values.  Though the parcels of land subject to conservation easements are usually larger parcels, it is possible to do conservation easements on smaller acreage if the parcel of land is of such a character that the qualified public or private entity finds value in investing time, money, and resources into its preservation.

On a tax note, the granting of a conservation easement by the landowner, under certain conditions, may provide the landowner with some tax advantages, such as significant income tax deduction, avoidance of federal estate tax, local real property tax relief, etc.  Ultimately, conservation easements are very complicated grants of real property rights involving multiple parties which require complex negotiations and a firm grasp of California conservation easement law.  Anyone considering a conservation easement should contact the Chilina Law Firm or another law firm focusing on California real property law for legal advice on conservation easements.

Authored by Greg Chilina and Co-Authored by Karen Chilina

Chilina Law Firm, a Professional Corporation, is a full-service estate planning, probate, trust administration, business law, and real property law firm that provides a wide-range of advising, transactional, and litigation services to its clients from its office located in Atascadero, California. The firm’s attorneys represent individuals and business entities in an assortment of transactional and litigation matters involving estate planning (including trusts, wills, powers of attorney, and medical directives), probate, trust administration, as well as general business law, contracts, corporate governance, land use, and real property. Chilina Law can be contacted by telephone at (805) 538-5038 or by email at or visit the Chilina Law Firm at Chilina Law Firm is based in Atascadero, California and serves North San Luis Obispo County communities, including Santa Margarita, Atascadero, Templeton, Paso Robles, and San Miguel.

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