Dean Saunders, ALC, CCIM, the founder and managing director of SVN | Saunders Ralston Dantzler Real Estate, began working with real estate conservation easements a quarter-century ago. Though more common now, the practice of preserving land and protecting wildlife was far more limited at that time.
“One of the interesting things about conservation easements is that 26 years ago when we started buying conservation easements in the state of Florida,” Saunders said “There really were very few agencies that did it.”
Saunders explained that the concept of an agreement between a landowner and the government to conserve land was still new. The federal government was not yet engaged in purchasing conservation easements on a broad scale. However, the use of conservation easements has grown and developed tremendously since then.
Today, there are two types of conservation easements Saunders assists clients with most often. These are the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) and Rural and Family Lands Protection Program (RFLPP) easements.
Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) Easement
Conservation easements can protect property in many ways. For example, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) uses conservation easements to restore wetlands with their Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) easements.
“That's really a restoration easement,” Saunders said of the WRP easement. “But it pays a greater value than just we're not going to develop an easement because now they're actually doing something to your property.”
According to Saunders, the USDA is reworking the WRP easements system to be a bit more restrictive. These types of easements will bring more money to the landowner as a general rule.
“It's been just kind of fun watching the duration of those easements,” stated Saunders, “how they've progressed over time and how they're being used.”
Rural and Family Lands Protection Program (RFLPP) Easement
Florida created the Rural Family Lands Protection Program (RFLPP) easement in the early 2000s. The program protects agricultural land in the state of Florida from development for conservation purposes.
Saunders noted that the program has not been “aggressively funded.” In some annual state budgets, there is no funding set aside for the program at all.
“But since its inception, it's been used to target agricultural lands as opposed to just targeting environmentally sensitive lands,” Saunders said. “And there's a lot more ag land than there is environmentally sensitive land.”
Much of the state’s agricultural private land is next to state parks, forests, and open spaces. These lands provide wildlife viewing and connectivity for wildlife habitat “corridors,” an essential need in environmental protection.
Conservation Easement Primer
Written by Dean Saunders, ALC, CCIM
This book is written to give insight and answers to your questions about Florida conservation easements and other landowner rights.
About Dean Saunders, ALC, CCIM
As an Accredited Land Consultant (ALC) and a member of the Florida Legislature from 1992 to 1996, Dean spearheaded the action to establish the Green Swamp Land Authority. As a result of his efforts, the very first Florida state agency was created to purchase development rights from landowners. His work was instrumental in the successful passing of the law requiring Florida state agencies to purchase a specific number of conservation easements each and every year. Selling your land as a Florida conservation easement is recommended to real estate clients when the property has the qualified features, meets guidelines, and the landowner desires a way to keep the property from major development for generations to come.