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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

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, 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 recreational 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?

A conservation easement, commonly referred to an "easement", 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 to the landowner. 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 conservation 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 a scenic area, for example, is different from an easement designed to protect 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 DEC 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 DEC manages more than 902,000 acres of Conservation Easement lands across New York State. Eighty-seven percent (785,000 acres) of these lands are located within the Adirondack Park.

Can the public use easement properties?

On most large, working forest conservation easement (WFCE) 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 hunt club leases, so public hunting may be restricted or prohibited in certain areas. Most WFCEs permit some form of public recreation, 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 available at local DEC 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 easement tract by contacting the regional DEC office nearest to the easement property.

What is a Working Forest Conservation Easement?

A working forest conservation easement ensures the protected property remains in a healthy forested condition and available for sustainable forestry management and associated production of forest products. More than 95% of the total acreage of lands with an easement are working forest easements.

DEC provides two options for accomplishing sustainable forest management on the working forests. Both allow for timber harvesting and removal of other forest products in a way that protects forest integrity and conserves the other natural resource values associated with the property.

The sustainable forestry provisions of the conservation easement do not require the landowner to harvest timber, but do require the landowner to subscribe to sustainable practices if forest management activities are undertaken.

The landowner may obtain certification from a Forest Certification Program such as the Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC®) or the Sustainable Forestry Initiative® program (SFI®).

The other option requires all forest management activities are undertaken in accordance with a DEC-approved forest management plan.

Both options require landowners to develop and update detailed forest management plans integrating sustainable forest management with the conservation of soil, water quality, wildlife and fish habitat, historical significance, recreation, and aesthetics while incorporating public involvement in the planning process.

All working forest conservation easements are required to have a forest management plan in place prior to conducting any forest management activities on the property.

Where can I learn more about conservation easements?

For more information about DEC's Conservation Easement Program or to access public recreational opportunities on conservation easement lands throughout New York State, contact the DEC Lands and Forests office nearest to the easement property.

To learn about non-profit land conservation organizations, visit the New York office of the Land Trust Alliance website (leaves DEC Website).

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

Beers Lot Conservation Easement Tract
Big Tupper Conservation Easement Tract
Croghan Conservation Easement Tract
East Branch Fish Creek North Conservation Easement Tract
East Branch Fish Creek South Conservation Easement Tract
Five Mile Conservation Easement Tract
Grass River Conservation Easement Tract
Long Pond Conservation Easement Tract
Massawepie Conservation Easement Tract
Niagara Mohawk Conservation Easement Tracts
Oswegatchie Conservation Easement Tract
Preston Lot Conservation Easement Tract
Seveys Conservation Easement Tract
Sucker Lake Conservation Easement Tract
Tooley Pond Conservation Easement Tract