Donated Land and Easement Grant Program
The Donated Land and Easement Grant Program will provide capital to cover the transaction costs associated with the donation of conservation easements and fee simple lands of ecological significance. With more than 80 percent of New England in private hands, the future of the regional landscape depends, in large part, on the willingness of individual and family landowners to conserve their land. Many owners are interested in protecting their land and are willing to donate a conservation easement in order to ensure its conservation in perpetuity. In some cases, owners are even willing to donate the land outright (“fee simple”).
Low- and no-cost easements and fee simple land acquisitions (versus raising the considerable capital necessary to purchase them) are often regarded as the “low hanging fruit” of regional conservation and an area ripe for additional success.
However, a major hurdle exists: many landowners cannot afford or are unwilling to cover the associated transaction costs, including appraisals, surveys, title searches, closing costs, etc., which often exceed more than $20,000. In many cases, the inability to cover these transaction costs has prevented priority projects from being completed. A handful of RCPs (and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts) have launched transaction cost funds and results have been very promising – achieving significant conservation gains and returns on investment of up to 25:1. Launching an RCP Donated Land and Easement Competitive Grant Program for their land trust and town partners will help RCPs conserve ecologically significant lands, build momentum for an enduring program, and encourage a culture of conservation across the RCP region.
The Donated Land and Easement Grant Program will support the transaction costs required to secure donated (and low-cost) conservation easements and fee simple lands identified in the RCP’s conservation plan/map focal areas.
The funding will be distributed by the RCP in a carefully constructed competitive grants process to land trust and town partners who have eligible projects. The RCP will provide the staffing and other funding necessary to develop and implement the competitive grants program.
In Year One, the Cox Trust will award two (2) pilot grants of $50,000 to $100,000. The RCP will set up a competitive grants program and start awarding funding per its guidelines to land trusts and towns for the transaction costs associated with eligible and timely projects.
A priority goal is to create new examples of effective transaction cost grant programs, and selected RCPs are encouraged to re-apply for additional funding contingent upon successful program implementation and demonstrated need.
Due to the complexities of programmatic needs assessment and development, a pre-proposal application is required. Only invited applicants will advance to the proposal stage. The Cox Trust will work closely with chosen applicants on the development of their full proposals, from which final grantees will be selected.
Please read the Eligibility requirements carefully here and the Program Criteria below before applying.
1. Indication that there is tangible and broad-based landowner interest in donating land and easements to land trusts or towns in the conservation plan focus areas of the RCP. The pre-proposal application should provide a pipeline flow/transaction list showing properties, acreages, and estimated timeframes; submit support letters from land trusts and/or towns that confirm the need. Include estimates of how many landowners might be interested, and what the timing of such transactions might be.
2. Capacity (staff resources, time, etc…) to set-up and administer a competitive grants program for the land trusts and towns within the RCP’s conservation focal areas.
3. Willingness to launch and administer a donated land and easement grant program within the following framework:
- The program can dedicate up to $20,000 for direct transaction costs for each project. These costs can include: procurement of surveys, appraisals and appraisal reviews; attorney services to applicant related to the acquisition of easements; title searches, closing services, deed preparation, baseline documentation, easement and land recording, and other professional services.
- Although the intent of the program is to incentivize full donation of fee simple lands and conservation easements, monies may be used, if the RCP chooses, to cover transaction costs where the landowner donates a minimum of 50% of the appraised value of the land or conservation easement.
- The program cannot be used to acquire direct real estate interests in land or cover stewardship costs.
- The program should be constructed in a way that incentivizes partner funding (e.g., matching requirements from the applicants) and optimizes ecological gain (e.g., minimal acreage requirement, ecological prioritization criteria).
- Conservation easements must be placed on the acquired lands that permanently protect natural resource values and prohibit activities that would be contrary to the primary easement purpose of ecologically significant land protection. Well-managed farmlands, and timberlands may be protected under this program if identified as conservation plan focal areas or for their ecologically significant land values (e.g., habitat connectivity or forest carbon retention).
The RCP Donated Land and Easement Program will also value:
4. New programs over already established transaction cost programs, as an important Cox Trust goal is to create new models for successful application of this strategy.
5. A demonstrated interest in continuing the program after completion of the Cox grant and/or leveraging this program to help develop new strategies to continue forward momentum on conservation of ecologically significant lands.