Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some frequently asked questions about the Idaho Coalition of Land Trusts.

Q: What is the Idaho Coalition of Land Trusts?
Q: What do land trusts do?
Q: Are all land trusts the same?
Q: What exactly is a conservation easement?
Q: How many easements do land trusts hold in Idaho, and how many acres are under easements?
Q: Why would a farmer, forester or rancher agree to a conservation easement?
Q: Do landowners surrender any private property rights through signing a conservation easement?
Q: If a conservation easement is placed on a ranch, are the cattle and irrigation systems removed from the land?
Q: Is there a reduction in local property taxes for conservation easements?
Q: Does a conservation easement allow for active forest management?
Q: Why is the easement in perpetuity?
Q: Is public recreational access granted to private lands under conservation easements?
Q: Can anyone start a land trust?
Q: How can I contact one of the Idaho Coalition of Land Trusts?

Q: What is the Idaho Coalition of Land Trusts?
A: The Idaho Coalition of Land Trusts (ICOLT) is a formal association of nineteen separate nonprofit land trust organizations and two local and state government-sponsored programs working on private land conservation and voluntary conservation agreements throughout the state of Idaho. The members of the association are: City of Boise Foothills and Open Space Program, Kaniksu Land Trust, Heart of the Rockies Initiative, Inland Northwest Land Trust, Land Trust of the Treasure Valley, Lemhi Regional Land Trust, Palouse Land Trust, Payette Land Trust, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Sagebrush Steppe Land Trust, Southern Idaho Land Trust, Teton Regional Land Trust, The Conservation Fund, The Nature Conservancy, The Trust for Public Land Northern Rockies Field Office, The Vital Ground Foundation, The Wilderness Land Trust, and Wood River Land Trust.

The Idaho Coalition of Land Trusts executive director is Laurel Sayer and ICOLT’s fiscal sponsor is the Wood River Land Trust, Hailey.

Land trusts are private, independent, entrepreneurial nonprofit organizations. Land trusts are not a branch of any governmental entity.

Q: What do land trusts do?
A: Land trusts work with private landowners to protect private land through voluntary agreements called conservation easements. Land trusts are not environmental advocacy groups in the traditional sense, and land trusts work closely with farmers, timber owners, ranchers, county government, Tribes, state and federal land and wildlife management agencies and local watershed groups to protect land.

Land trusts and landowners work voluntarily to negotiate a land protection agreement that limits future industrial, commercial or residential development on the land. That agreement is called a conservation easement.

Back to the top

Q: Are all land trusts the same?
A: No. Land trusts all have some attributes in common, but each land trust in Idaho has its own priorities, mission and goals.

For example, some of the land trusts in Idaho work with landowners in a more narrowly defined geographical area, and have formed close cooperative relationships with local governments, Tribes, state and federal agencies and other organizations in specific counties, valleys and river basins in Idaho (e.g. Heart of the Rockies Initiative, Inland Northwest Land Trust, Land Trust of the Treasure Valley, Lemhi Regional Land Trust, Palouse Land Trust, Payette Land Trust, Sagebrush Steppe Land Trust, Southern Idaho Land Trust, Teton Regional Land Trust, and Wood River Land Trust). The Kaniksu Land Trust works with landowners in just one Idaho county, Bonner County. The Wilderness Land Trust works with private landowners whose property is within federally-designated Wilderness Areas. Other land trusts in Idaho protect lands critical to specific wildlife species, such as the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (elk) and The Vital Ground Foundation (grizzly bears). In addition, some local and state government sponsored entities in the state are involved in land conservation work (e.g. City of Boise’s Foothills and Open Space Program and Blaine County Land, Water & Wildlife Program.) The Nature Conservancy is an international organization with a focus on protecting Idaho’s biodiversity. Two national organizations - The Trust for Public Land and The Conservation Fund - protect places with significant land, water and open space resources that matter to local Idaho communities.

Back to the top

Q: What exactly is a conservation easement?
A: A conservation easement is a negotiated land protection agreement between a landowner and a land trust that essentially establishes the landowner’s commitment for retaining his or her property as open lands.

In essence, a conservation agreement is a voluntary legal agreement that limits the landowner’s ability to develop the land, and calls for conservation of the property’s natural values.

A conservation easement is negotiated between the landowner and a land trust based in part on the landowner’s vision and priorities, so easements vary in intent and purpose. But practically and legally, easements typically restrict certain land developments, such as subdivision for residential or commercial activities, industrial uses, and surface mining.

Conservation easements must accomplish at least one of these three conservation purposes: protection of open space (including farmland, ranchland and forestland), protection of a relatively natural habitat for fish, wildlife or plants, or protection of lands for education or outdoor recreation of the general public.

So a conservation easement is a negotiated agreement that limits some uses of private lands, protects conservation values and retains working farmlands, ranchlands and forestlands.

The conservation agreement protects the lands in perpetuity, and the easement is recorded at the county courthouse.

Back to the top

Q: How many acres are under conservation easements held by land trusts in Idaho?
A: Members of the Idaho Coalition of Land Trusts protect close to 60,000 acres of Idaho private lands under conservation easements.

Back to the top

Q: Why would a farmer, forester or rancher agree to a conservation easement?
A: In most cases, the landowner seeks out a land trust and begins discussions about an easement. A landowner may do so for many different reasons.

Landowners who donate a conservation easement on their property may be eligible for federal income tax and estate tax benefits. Remember, the easement restricts commercial, industrial and residential subdivision development of the property, so in a practical sense the land value is diminished with the easement. Since that land value is voluntarily diminished – and voluntarily diminished for public benefit – the landowner may receive potential tax benefits.

In some cases, the conservation easement is sold rather than donated to the land trust. Usually such sales are bargain sales, that is, the landowner sells the conservation easement to the land trust at a price below the appraised fair market value of the property. The difference between the fair market value and the bargain sale price may allow the landowner to claim a charitable income tax deduction.

Aside from tax benefits, most landowners donate or convey a conservation easement to a land trust for more altruistic reasons. In many cases, the landowner has such a bond with – and passion for – the land that the landowner has one simple wish: To protect the land, to keep the property whole and intact, long after the landowner and the rest of us have departed.

The only way to protect private lands in perpetuity is through a conservation easement.

Back to the top

Q: Do landowners surrender any private property rights through signing a conservation easement?
A: The conservation easement agreement itself spells out exactly what the landowner is “surrendering.” The conservation easement will generally prevent such things as such as subdivision for residential or commercial activities, industrial uses, and surface mining.

It is important to note that under the terms of a conservation easement the landowner continues to own, and manage, the property. The landowner and his or her family can continue to live on and enjoy the property. The property may still produce crops, hay, livestock, timber and other commodities. The landowner still makes all the farm/ranch decisions, still pays property taxes, and preserves the elements of a working farm or ranch. The landowner can still sell the property or pass it on to family or friends.

A conservation easement is an extension of private property rights, and can be a valuable tool for farmers, foresters and ranchers who want to retain ownership of their property.

Back to the top

Q: If a conservation easement is placed on a ranch, are the cattle and irrigation systems removed from the land?
A: No. A typical conservation easement allows the property to be used for agricultural production, grazing and timber harvest operations.

Back to the top

Q: Is there a reduction in local property taxes for conservation easements?
A: No. Local property taxes continue to be paid by the landowner. If your property is subject to the state agricultural exemption, a land trust can help you craft a conservation easement that will not change your exemption. Wildlife habitat property tax exemptions on conservation easement lands may apply in certain circumstances.

Back to the top

Q: Does a conservation easement allow for active forest management?
A: Yes. Conservation easements support actions for forest stewardship and forest health. Land trusts can help landowners plan management actions to protect forests under conservation easement from disease, insect infestations and catastrophic fire.

Back to the top

Q: Why is the easement in perpetuity?
A: Three main reasons. One, current landowners who grant or otherwise convey a conservation easement want assurances their property will be protected not just through their lifetime, but forever. Two, federal law requires the conservation easement be held in perpetuity to qualify for federal income tax and estate tax benefits. Three, there is a concern that if conservation easements granted tax deductions and were allowed for terms – say, 20 years or 100 years – landowners could be tempted to receive the federal tax deductions for decades while speculating on lands that are rising in value, then subdivide that same property later after the term of the conservation easement expires.

Also, keep in mind there are many land use decisions – on both private and public lands – that are made on a regular basis that in essence are made in perpetuity. When a county planning board and county commission vote to allow a 50-lot subdivision, and the land fills with 50 homes, there is no doubt that land will be in residential/commercial/industrial use in perpetuity.

Back to the top

Q: Is public recreational access granted to private lands under conservation easements?
A: In many cases, land trusts work hard to enhance and expand recreational access to both private and public lands. Some members of the Idaho Coalition of Land Trusts have active trail programs that significantly expand hiking and other recreation opportunities in their areas.

The main purpose of land trusts, however, and the main charge land trusts have received through state statute, is to protect and conserve natural areas, protect and conserve wildlife habitat, protect and conserve working farms and ranches, protect and conserve healthy forests, and protect and conserve lakes and streams. Plus, conservation easements take place on private lands, and by law and tradition in Idaho, recreational access to private lands is determined by the landowner.

So in short, recreational access for the public is not legally required by state or federal laws that enable conservation easements. The decision of whether or not there is public access is determined by each private landowner on a case by case basis.

Back to the top

Q: Can anyone start a land trust?
A: Not really.

Idaho Coalition of Land Trusts members have worked diligently for decades to earn public trust in their communities and among their partner organizations. In addition, Idaho land trusts have cooperated with the Land Trust Alliance (a national land trust organization) on an exhaustive series of standards and practices for land trust professional and comprehensive guidelines, and are collaborating with the Land Trust Alliance and the U.S. Congress on a systematic and focused accreditation process for land trusts.

Because of the federal tax implications of conservation easements, easements can only be held by “qualified” land trust organizations.

Back to the top

Q: How can I contact one of the Idaho Coalition of Land Trusts?
A: Click here for a listing of all the Idaho Coalition of Land Trusts members, missions, website addresses, telephone numbers and contact persons.

Back to the top


  • Idaho Coalition of Land Trusts
  • |
  • PO Box 1845
  • |
  • Boise, ID 83701
  • |
  • (208) 521-2987
  • |
  • Email Us
Home  |  About Us  |  Map  |  About Land Trusts  |   About Conservation Easements  |  News  |  Member Directory  |  Charter  |  FAQs