Conservation easements in SFIA

forested trail

SFIA is NOT a conservation easement. This page provides information for landowners who have a conservation easement on their land and also want to participate in SFIA. If you don't have a conservation easement on your land, you can ignore this page.

Understanding conservation easements

A conservation easement is a voluntary legal agreement between a landowner and a government entity or a nonprofit conservation agency qualified to enforce easements. By signing a conservation agreement, landowners agree to limit or restrict certain uses of their property in order to preserve its conservation values—such as open space, wildlife habitat, or other natural or scenic properties. Conservation easements may be purchased or donated.

Land placed into the easement still belongs to the landowner and the landowner retains the right to sell the land or pass it on to heirs.

There are many different types of conservation easement programs in Minnesota, each with different goals and purposes. The restrictions and provisions of conservation easements can vary significantly.

In Minnesota, landowners commonly sign easement agreements with the MN DNR, Board of Soil and Water Resources (BWSR), MN Land Trust, and Ducks Unlimited. Some common conservation easement programs in Minnesota are Reinvest in Minnesota (RIM) Reserve, Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), Forest Legacy, Forests for the Future, and Army Compatible Use Buffer (ACUB).

By state statute, Minnesota conservation easement commitments must be at least 20 years. Most often they are perpetual, meaning they stay with land forever, even if the land is sold or if there is a change in ownership.

All conservation easements are detailed in a legal document called an "easement agreement". The document is filed at the county recorder's office in the county where the land is located. Contact the county recorder's office if you are unsure whether a conservation easement exists on your land.

Conservation easements and SFIA

Land with an existing conservation easement might also be eligible for SIFA. The land and easement must meet four requirements. The conservation easement must:

  1. Have been put in place on or before May 30, 2013
  2. Be at least as restrictive as the SFIA covenant
  3. Not be a Reinvest in Minnesota (RIM) Reserve program conservation easement
  4. Not be a Permanent Wetland Preserve (PWP) conservation easement

The only covenant length option for SFIA land that also is part of a conservation easement is eight years (for more information about this, please see the Dept. of Revenue's SFIA website). For 2018, the estimated payment rate for this sort of covenant is $3.43 per acre.

Land that is in a conservation easement and is also enrolled in SFIA must allow public access. This is a new requirement as a result of 2017 legislative changes.

I have an easement to access my land. Is that a conservation easement?

No. Access easements are not conservation easements. Access easements exist to give legal access on or across your land to someone or something else. Examples of access easements include: allowing a neighbor access to a shared driveway on your property; allowing a neighbor to cross your property to access a land-locked parcel; or allowing the public to cross your property to access a public access or land on the other side of your parcel. Access easements do not preserve the natural characteristics of your land or restrict development like a conservation easement.

Current enrollee special details

SFIA, Conservation Easements, and Public Access

Legislative changes to the SFIA law in 2017 now require public access to land that is both enrolled in SFIA and has a conservation easement. Public access must be granted starting July 1, 2019. All of your other SFIA land and property is not required to allow public access.

If you do not wish to allow public access to your land, the law does provide a short window for free withdrawal from SFIA for certain landowners. You may withdraw from SFIA if you meet both of the following requirements:

  • You have fewer than 1,920 acres of land enrolled in SFIA
  • Your SFIA land also is enrolled in a conservation easement

If you meet both of these requirements, you may withdraw only the affected land from SFIA. The deadline to do this is July 1, 2018. Contact Dept. of Revenue at 651-556-6088 or [email protected] to start the withdrawal process.

If you decide to withdraw your land with a conservation easement from SFIA, you might want to consider enrolling it in the 2c Managed Forest Land program. This program reduces the tax rate on eligible land to 0.65 percent. Download the Dept. of Revenue's Class 2c Managed Forest Land fact sheet to see whether your land is eligible. If you have a tax parcel in 2c, no other land in that same parcel can be enrolled in SFIA.