Property rights law in the United States defines conservation easements as a way for landowners to retain all property rights, except for those specifically and voluntarily assigned or restricted by the easement. The owner remains the owner of the land and can use it in any way compatible with the easement provisions. This means that the owner can continue doing on the land what they were doing before donating the easement, such as selling the land, living on it, or leaving it in a will. The owner is also responsible for managing and maintaining the property, as well as paying real estate taxes. A conservation easement is a flexible tool that allows landowners to differentiate between the right to participate in certain types of land use, such as intensive development, and other property rights over a specific plot of land.
The owner has the right to plant trees or cut them down, construct or demolish buildings, cultivate or pile rocks, etc. However, neither the owner nor anyone else has the right to prevent them from using all of their property, including the riverine buffer zone. Government (and some private) programs, such as development rights purchase programs or PDR programs, are designed to encourage landowners to impose development restrictions on their land for conservation purposes and to buy the right to enforce these restrictions imposed by landowners. The value of this gift can be determined by calculating the difference between the value of the property without taking into account (or before its creation) the easement and the value of the property subject to the easement (or after its establishment).When creating a conservation easement, an owner transfers some or all of their rights to develop the property to a government agency or a qualified conservation non-governmental organization (NGO). This agreement limits certain uses of all or part of a property for conservation purposes while keeping the property in the ownership and control of the owner.
The owner has the right to use their land in a variety of ways, subject to local zoning and other laws. With a conservation easement, landowners generally do not grant owners the right to use certain sticks, but rather give them the right to enforce restrictions on the use of those sticks that have been set aside. This allows landowners to protect their land's conservation values while still achieving their personal objectives.