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Conservation Easements

Recreate on DEC Conservation Easement Lands! View properties you can visit.

Conservation easements are an important way to protect land while keeping people on the land.

A Meandering Adirondack River
The 110,000-acre conservation easement with the Heartwood Forestland Fund III, LP (former Champion International Corp. lands) in the Adirondacks allows continued sustainable forestry and also opens some of the land to public recreation.

An important land conservation tool employed widely across the United States, conservation easements are used to protect a variety of important natural resources and landscape values, such as water quality, wildlife habitat, sensitive ecosystems, wetlands, riparian areas, scenic areas, agricultural land, working forests, and historic sites. The primary function of an easement is to limit or eliminate future development and undesirable land uses on a property, while allowing for continued private ownership and traditional management. Some conservation easements allow public access to the protected property and some do not; either way the public benefits by the substantial environmental protection achieved.

What is a conservation easement?

Conservation easements are permanent legal agreements entered into by a landowner and state or local government, or a non-profit land trust. Easement documents identify the open space values being protected, and clearly describe the restrictions being placed on a property. First, an appraiser determines the value of the property rights given up by a landowner, and then the easement is purchased, or it can be donated, resulting in a variety of tax benefits. When the state accepts and holds a conservation easement it takes on the responsibility to monitor and enforce the terms of the easement in perpetuity (forever); the easement is recorded with the deed and is binding on future landowners.

Are all easements the same?

No. Every easement is unique. The purpose and terms of each easement are tailored to the specific characteristics of each property. An easement designed to protect agricultural land, for example, is different from an easement designed to protect a scenic area, or one focused on protection of endangered species habitat. Most conservation easements, however, are structured to meet multiple objectives. Some easements prohibit all future development, while others allow for limited new buildings or other improvements. Most easements allow traditional uses of the land, such as forestry, agriculture, or recreation, to continue as long as the conservation goals of the property are being met.

Where has NYSDEC acquired conservation easements?

New York State acquires conservation easements primarily on properties that buffer existing state lands, provide additional public recreational opportunities, and/or maintain large working forests. Hundreds of thousands of acres of land in New York are now protected by conservation easements acquired by the state; most of that land consists of large tracts of commercial timberland in the Adirondack and Tug Hill regions, however, DEC also holds easements on a variety of other properties across the state.
The Department manages nearly 910,000 acres of Conservation Easement lands across New York State. More than 785,000 acres (86%) of these lands are located within the Adirondack Park.

Can the public use easement properties?

On most large, working-forest easement properties, the state has acquired some level of public recreation rights, in addition to development and land use restrictions. In some cases, a wide range of public recreational uses is permitted, and in others, only very limited public access is allowed. The amount of public access depends largely on the goals and objectives of the landowner at the time the easement was negotiated. All of these lands are actively managed for forest products, and many of the companies who own the land also rely on income from private hunting and fishing club leases, so public hunting may be restricted or prohibited in certain areas. Most working forest easements permit some form of public trail use, whether it is for foot travel, horses, mountain bikes, or snowmobiles, and some provide backcountry camping and canoeing opportunities.

Public recreation on easement lands is guided by either Recreation Management Plans (RMPs) that are developed for each major easement tract, or by Unit Management Plans (UMPs) prepared for adjacent state lands. RMPs and UMPs address existing natural resources, land uses, laws and policies, and describe plans for future recreational development, including an implementation schedule. DEC considers landowner and public input while developing RMPs and UMPs. Public access on an easement property is generally limited until a final RMP or UMP is adopted, and may also be temporarily suspended or relocated in certain areas due to forest management activities taking place on the property.

Recreation Management Plans and Unit Management Plans are, or will be, available from NYSDEC offices as they are developed for specific easement properties. People who plan to visit a conservation easement property that is open for public recreation are encouraged to find out ahead of time exactly which activities are permitted on a given tract by contacting the regional DEC office nearest to the easement property.

Where can I learn more about conservation easements?

For more information about NYSDEC's Conservation Easement Program and public recreational access to certain conservation easement lands, contact the DEC Lands and Forests office nearest to the easement property.

For more information about non-profit land conservation organizations, contact the New York office of the Land Trust Alliance by accessing the link in the right column or by calling 518-587-0774.

Conservation Easement Lands Open for Public Recreation

    DEC Region 2

    New York City Region

    DEC Region 5

    Eastern Adirondacks/Lake Champlain Region

    DEC Region 6

    Western Adirondacks/Upper Mohawk Valley/Eastern Lake Ontario Region