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SOIL AND WATER

CREP Easements

"With every passing day, land is becoming more expensive and scarce. I will set up and meet this preservation goal during my term, not just because it's the right thing to do. I will do it because, if I don't, the opportunity to do it will not be there for future governors and future Virginians." - Governor Tim Kaine

Click here to download the CREP Easement Commitment form.

CREP easements

CREP easement photoA CREP easement is a permanent conservation easement on an agricultural riparian buffer. It protects farmland along streams by limiting what can be done in these areas. The CREP easement is enforced through a legal document made between a landowner and DCR, which pays the landowner $1,000 an acre for the easement. The easement limits some rights but allows the landowner to own and use the property and sell it or pass it on to heirs while protecting it. The CREP easement is legally recorded and bound to the deed of the property permanently.

An easement is a significant commitment. By participating in CREP, you are already committed to protecting water quality and providing habitat for wildlife. CREP easements go a step further by making the protection permanent. It’s a voluntary solution for protecting agricultural land and instituting a stewardship ethic that passes through the generations.

The easement option is available only after the landowner has installed CREP riparian buffer protections. The land use restrictions in the easement, which are added to the property deed, are similar to the CREP rental contract restrictions. The landowner agrees to keep the land as a restored riparian buffer or wetland after the CREP 10 to 15-year rental contract expires.

The easement also gives DCR the right to monitor the riparian buffer each year to make sure the easement’s terms are being followed and to assure that future landowners honor the conditions of the easement.

Ensure wise use of land

A CREP easement ensures that your decisions about wise use of your land remain unchanged. Easements are a way for landowners to protect from development the land they love while continuing to own it. Easements pass with ownership, so your efforts to protect water quality and wildlife habitat continue even after you no longer control the land.

A conservation easement can also be an important estate-planning tool. By removing the land's development potential, the easement lowers its market value, which in turn lowers estate tax, allowing the next generation to continue to own the land.

The easement does not prevent future sale or inheritance of the land. You can sell, lease or otherwise transfer the property normally. At the same time, the land remains subject to the restrictions of the CREP easement.

Restrictions

There are restrictions on use of the easement land. The easement area may not be developed, mined, excavated or used for agriculture. If the larger farm is divided into smaller parcels, the CREP easement remains in effect on each of the parcels. Portions of the property outside the CREP easement are not restricted by the easement. Timber may be harvested from the easement area under an agreed-upon forest stewardship plan. CREP easements provide flexibility while protecting riparian buffers and wetlands as open space forever.

The public will not have access to the easement land. As with any privately owned land, the landowner must give permission for access to land protected by a CREP easement.

Possible tax advantages

There may be tax advantages to an easement. Placing an easement on your property may or may not result in property tax savings. It is essential that the landowner consult his or her own tax advisor to determine potential tax advantages.

Potential tax benefits of donated land conservation easements may include a federal income tax deduction, state income tax credit, state capital gains exclusion, estate tax reduction or local real-estate tax reduction. To the extent that CREP easements are purchased, they cannot be claimed as donations. In addition, local real-estate tax reductions generally will not apply to land in riparian areas because that land is usually already taxed at its “land use” rate.

However, if the payment for the CREP easement is less than the land’s fair market value (a “bargain sale”), you may be able to claim a charitable tax deduction for the difference between the bargain sale price and the fair market value. Thus, if the land on which you place a CREP easement is appraised at a value higher than the CREP payment, the difference in those values could be claimed as a donation for federal and state tax purposes.

Contact your tax advisor for information tailored to your situation.

The easement covers only the CREP land, that which supports the CREP buffer or restored wetland, or a portion of that buffer. Additional riparian areas excluded from the CREP rental payment calculation but protected from livestock can be included in the easement area under certain circumstances (e.g., donated to the DCR easement, or paid for by another organization’s easement program).

If there is an existing easement on your property, that easement document must be examined. If your existing easement addresses only development potential, then a CREP easement may be recorded to specifically restrict land use of the riparian buffer or wetland. It is possible that a CREP easement may be recorded as an added protection if the previously existing easement does not already specifically restrict the riparian buffer or wetland.

Stem the tide

Farmland and forestland are being lost rapidly. In the next 15 years, 70 percent of Virginia’s farms and forestland will change hands. Between 1982 and 1997, Virginia lost 480,000 acres of cropland. Between 1992 and 2000, the commonwealth lost 490,000 acres of forestland (Virginia Tech study and Joint Subcommittee on Open Space and Farmland Preservation of the Virginia General Assembly.) You are a steward of Virginia’s natural resources, and your land can stay the way you want it. Take one step further to ensure that your land decisions continue forever.

Contact

CREP Easement Coordinator
Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation
600 E. Main St., 24th Floor
Richmond, VA 23219
Fax (804) 225-2048

CREP is one of Virginia's most active water quality efforts. Its aim is to improve water quality and wildlife habitat by offering financial incentives, cost-share, rental payments, and easements to farmers who restore riparian buffers, filter strips and wetlands through the installation of conservation practices. CREP is an enhancement to the federal Conservation Reserve Program, established in 1985, which has enrolled more than 39 million acres nationwide. With federal and state funds, CREP is Virginia's best-funded conservation program to date. CREP applications will be accepted at your local Farm Service Center until Dec. 31, 2007. Easement applications will be accepted after that.

Please send questions about the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program to crep@dcr.virginia.gov.