What We Do

Because the Bear River Watershed Conservation Area Land Protection Plan (Plan) is an extensive 227 page document, we've reduced it down to just a few frequently asked questions. However, if you would like to read the Plan in full, please check it out in the Library.

Frequently Asked Questions about Conservation Areas and Easements.

Conservation Areas

A conservation area conservation area
A conservation area or wildlife management area is a type of national wildlife refuge that consists primarily or entirely of conservation easements on private lands. These conservation easements support private landowner efforts to protect important habitat for fish and wildlife. There are 13 conservation areas and nine wildlife management areas in the National Wildlife Refuge System.

Learn more about conservation area
is a landscape-scale unit of the National Wildlife Refuge System that helps the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) protect wildlife habitat via voluntary, private land conservation easements and in some cases, by fee title land acquisition. 

  • Conservation easements acquire limited rights on private lands to protect habitat and migration corridors for wildlife while also allowing private landowners to keep their lands in production. 
  • Fee title land acquisition is when the Service acquires land outright, with all interests.
What is a Conservation Easement?

A conservation easement conservation easement
A conservation easement is a voluntary legal agreement between a landowner and a government agency or qualified conservation organization that restricts the type and amount of development that may take place on a property in the future. Conservation easements aim to protect habitat for birds, fish and other wildlife by limiting residential, industrial or commercial development. Contracts may prohibit alteration of the natural topography, conversion of native grassland to cropland, drainage of wetland and establishment of game farms. Easement land remains in private ownership.

Learn more about conservation easement
is a voluntary legal agreement between a private landowner and a government agency or qualified conservation organization where the Service acquires limited interests in private property. The land remains in private ownership, and the voluntary legal agreement protects the land’s conservation value by restricting the type and amount of development that may take place. Essentially, conservation easements protect habitat for birds, fish, and other wildlife by limiting residential, industrial, and commercial development. Conservation easements may prohibit alteration of the natural topography, conversion of native grassland to cropland, drainage of wetlands, and establishment of game farms. 

Conservation easements can be donated or sold to the Service, and land use restrictions are tailored to meet specific conservation goals of the conservation area. The conservation easements are perpetual - they permanently convey certain property interests to the Service.

What Protections are in Place on a Conservation Easement?

Under a conservation easement, the following types of protections may be put in place:

  • The land cannot be subdivided or commercially developed (e.g., feed lots, wind farms, solar farms).
  • Water rights stay with the land. The historic water use continues, the water can't be sold, and any proposed changes to water rights may require consultation with Service.
  • Wetlands on the easement cannot be drained or filled.
  • Native or meadow grass can be cut for hay, but only after July 15 of each year.
  • The Service must be included on discussions related to major road developments or improvements, native vegetation treatments, new residence locations, and mineral development.
What Aspects of Land Management are Not Restricted on a Conservation Easement?

Most aspects of day-to-day land management are not restricted by the easement:

  • Activities such as grazing and haying can continue. Grazing rights are unchanged, and hay can be cut after July 15 each year.
  • General maintenance, irrigation, cattle ranch infrastructure, and agricultural buildings are not restricted (e.g., hay sheds, calving shelters, wind fences).
  • Controlling public access remains the right of the landowner. 
What Responsibilities Remain with the Landowner on a Conservation Easement?

Property taxes and the responsibility to comply with state and local laws (e.g., noxious weed control) remain the responsibility of the private landowner.

Why Does the Service Want to Acquire Conservation Easements?

The Service has limited funding for land acquisition, and acquiring conservation easements allows the Service to protect larger blocks of important habitat than would be possible if the land itself were to be purchased in fee title. The conservation easement approach also allows land to remain in private ownership as productive agricultural, ranching, and recreational land. 

Conservation easements are typically acquired at a rate of 20-40% of the land’s total value, depending on the terms of the easement. In addition, the operation and management costs of easements are significantly lower than Service-owned lands. Essentially, if the land had to be purchased, conservation on this scale would not be possible.

What Land is Eligible for Conservation Easements?

This depends on the conservation area because each conservation area is established with a specific purpose. Only lands inside a conservation area boundary may be considered, and lands inside are often prioritized based on needs and threats. The eligible land also depends on the funding source for the easements. 

In some instances, the funding source for easements is Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) dollars. In other instances, Migratory Bird Conservation Fund (MBCF), commonly known as the “Federal Duck Stamp” dollars, can be used. To qualify for Duck Stamp funding, a property must provide suitable habitat for waterfowl. 

What is the Process for Establishing a Conservation Easement?

Typically, the process starts with an interested landowner inviting a Service biologist to evaluate the property for habitat suitable for the purposes of the Conservation Area. If the land is eligible and the landowner wants to proceed, the Service completes an appraisal of the property. The appraisal determines the fair market value of the easement and is used to make a written offer to purchase the easement.

If the landowner agrees to the offer, the Service orders title insurance to ensure the property has clear title or whether there are other owners or mortgage holders which need to subordinate the easement. Once the title work has been done, a closing date is set, and a lump sum payment is made to the landowner. The Service pays all costs associated with establishing the easement, including the appraisal, title insurance, and recording fees. No public meetings or notice are required to sell an easement to the Service. The entire process usually takes 12-48 months.

Landowners are encouraged to seek out professional legal advice to determine any financial benefits or tax implications associated with the sale of a conservation easement.

I am a landowner in the conservation area and might be interested. How Can I Find Out More?

If your land is within the designated conservation area and you are interested in learning more about the easement program, click on the “Contact Us” button on the left-hand side of this page to reach out to Service staff.