Save Mount Diablo endeavors to keep the Mount Diablo core area free from development and to preserve specific areas that have major wildlife, recreational, scenic, and scientific values.
In our area, development threatens unique habitat, creates a huge barrier to the movement of wildlife, and depletes essential components of the ecosystem, such as water.
We are working to secure large portions of this habitat to be preserved as park lands, and our vision also includes private lands protected by perpetual conservation easements or direct acquisitions.
If you are a landowner considering selling or donating your land, or a conservation easement on your land, below are some resources and information to help you make your decision. For quick answers, check out the FAQs section at the bottom of the page.
There are many things to consider if you want to protect your land. The Land Trust Alliance’s Conserve Your Land page has a comprehensive list of questions and answers that can serve as a starting point.
If you would like to sell or donate your land, or a conservation easement on your land, to Save Mount Diablo or have any questions about doing so, please contact Land Programs Director Sean Burke at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To accomplish our vision, we use two main land acquisition tools:
- We acquire land in fee simple title, so we become the landowner. With many of these lands, we then go on to sell them to governmental partners to become part of a public park system and utilize the revenue to protect more property. Much of the land Save Mount Diablo has purchased over the years is now incorporated into Mount Diablo State Park, East Bay Regional Park District lands, and lands owned by the East Contra Costa County Habitat Conservancy. Sometimes Save Mount Diablo continues to own the land it acquires in fee simple title, stewarding it, and creating unique educational opportunities on the land for the public.
- We also acquire perpetual conservation easements. Sometimes we purchase and resell some lands to private buyers subject to conservation easements and then utilize the revenue to acquire more property or conservation easements. This method allows us to protect properties with important habitats and scenic values that may not be well-suited additions to a park or preserve due to their size or location. At other times, we acquire a conservation easement outright from a landowner on a strategic open-space property.
Save Mount Diablo works closely with landowners to determine which of the following conservation options offers the most opportunities for both parties.
A conservation easement is a voluntary legal agreement between the landowner and a qualified organization, such as a land trust, to protect the natural or cultural resources on that land forever. It is the most common way to protect land.
Save Mount Diablo uses conservation easements to protect land in two ways:
- We sell some lands to private buyers subject to conservation easements and utilize the revenue to acquire more property or conservation easements.
- In some cases, we may buy conservation easements from existing landowners on strategic properties.
In both cases, we hold the conservation easement.
Often the conserved land will have a house on it. The conservation easement will protect the resources we purchased the property to save and allow the landowner to live in and maintain their home, as they normally would.
We work with the landowner to reach a permanent agreement that gives them the flexibility they need within a small portion of the property, usually an acre or less, while conserving the habitat over the vast majority of the property.
The agreement limits some of the landowners’ rights on the property to protect habitat and wildlife.
The conservation easements we enter into, for example, prohibit subdividing property for additional homes, protect creeks including Marsh Creek, and protect habitat such as the oak woodlands that are so vital in the area where we work. Some conservation easements may reserve trail and access easements.
We work with property owners to periodically monitor the terms of the conservation easement and enjoy with them the satisfaction of having permanently protected the land they love.
If you need to sell your land but don’t want to see it destroyed by development, we can help. Prior to the sale, you can work with us to place a conservation easement on the land before it goes on the market.
NOTE: Because you are selling or donating the development rights, you should expect to receive less money for your land than if it were sold outright. You may be eligible for tax benefits if you donate the development rights to Save Mount Diablo.
Donating land for conservation is one of the finest legacies a person can leave to future generations. If you choose to donate your land, Save Mount Diablo can work with you to identify the best arrangement.
We might retain ownership of the property as a permanent preserve or transfer the property to a suitable owner, such as a government agency. In some cases, the land is sold to a private owner, subject to a conservation easement held by us.
Proceeds from such a sale could fund our long-term management of the conservation easement or help us to protect even more land. The full market value of land donated to us is often tax deductible as a charitable gift (please consult with your tax and legal advisers).
Trade lands are properties donated to a land trust that may or may not have significant conservation characteristics. They can be developed or not, and can be residential, industrial, or commercial.
These trade lands are donated specifically to be sold (sometimes they are conserved with an easement and then sold) with the proceeds going to Save Mount Diablo.
The donation can be outright or devised through a will. Some land trusts may grant a retained life estate if the property is a personal residence or farm.
The proceeds from a trade land can also be used to fund a charitable remainder trust, an irrevocable trust which pays income to one or more beneficiaries—often, the donor or the donor and the donor’s spouse—for life or for a term of up to 20 years.
When the trust ends, the remaining assets go to the land trust. Trade land donations often have tax benefits.
In a bargain sale, you sell your land to a land trust for less than its fair market value. This not only makes it more affordable for the land trust, but offers several benefits to you: it provides cash, avoids some capital gains tax, and may entitle you to a charitable income tax deduction based on the difference between the land’s fair market value and its sale price.
Benefits for Landowners
Landowners have found that conservation easements offer great flexibility, yet they provide a permanent guarantee that the land will not be developed.
For example, an easement on property containing rare wildlife habitat might prohibit any development, while one on a farm might allow continued farming and the building of additional agricultural structures. An easement may apply to only a portion of the property, and need not require public access.
A landowner may sell a conservation easement, but usually easements are donated. If the donation benefits the public by permanently protecting important conservation resources and meets other federal tax code requirements, it can qualify as a tax-deductible charitable donation.
The amount of the donation is the difference between the land’s value with the easement and its value without the easement. Placing an easement on property may or may not result in property tax savings.
Perhaps most importantly, a conservation easement can be essential for passing land on to the next generation. By removing the land’s development potential, the easement lowers its market value, which in turn lowers estate tax. Whether the easement is donated during life or by will, it can make a critical difference in the heirs’ ability to keep the land intact.