An agricultural conservation easement is a voluntary, legally recorded deed restriction that is placed on a specific property used for agricultural production. The goal of an agricultural conservation easement is to maintain agricultural land in active production by removing the development pressures from the land. Such an easement prohibits practices that would damage or interfere with the agricultural use of the land. Because the easement is a restriction on the deed of the property, the easement remains in effect even when the land changes ownership.
Agricultural conservation easements are created specifically to support agriculture and prevent development on the subject parcels. While other benefits may accrue because the land is not developed (scenic and habitat values, for example), the primary use of the land is agricultural. Easements must be of a size and nature suitable for viable commercial agriculture.
Agricultural conservation easements are held by land trusts or local governments, which are responsible for ensuring that the terms of the easement are upheld. The easement may be donated to the easement holder, purchased (if the easement holder can obtain funding), or a combination of the two. In the last case, when the landowner donates a portion of the value of the easement, it is known as a "bargain sale". Typically, the easement holder will conduct an annual visit to the property to verify that the uses of the property are consistent with the terms of the individual easement. Each agricultural conservation easement is negotiated between the landowner, the easement holder, and any funding sources.
Conservation easements are a unique public-private method to conserve the state's valuable resources. Conservation easements, which may protect a variety of resource types, are defined under California Civil Code Section 815.