Map of Buzzards Bay Open Space
Why protect open space?
Southeastern Massachusetts is one of the fastest growing areas in the United States. Unfortunately, this growth is leading to unplanned development and sprawl, which is quickly overrunning our cities and towns. According to a study done by The Trustees of Reservations, if this trend continues, roughly one-third of the state’s land mass will be developed by the year 2010, four times as much land as was developed in 1950. Because development will be so widely scattered, the impact on the remaining land will be devastating as broader patterns within the ecological and cultural landscape are disrupted.
Protecting open space make sense from an ecological standpoint as well as a financial one. Open space provides critical habitat and corridors for wildlife and plants, protects important water supplies, provides areas for recreational activities, protects historically significant places, and preserves the charm and character of the area in which we live. Open space also make sense for a town’s tax base because undeveloped, protected land costs the town nothing, as community services, such as schools, police, and road services, are not required. Many reports have documented the value of open space when compared to the high costs of community services.
All open space protected in Buzzards Bay (data compiled by the BBP, see our GPRA Report Maps) for more information on specific projects.
Additionally, protecting open space can ease the tax burden for individual landowners. Upon a landowner’s death, federal estate taxes on property can be as high as 55% of the property’s fair market value, essentially forcing heirs to sell all or part of the land to pay the taxes. Donation of land or placing a conservation restriction on a property can result in substantial income tax deduction and reduce property and estate taxes.
Who is working to protect open spaces?
Over 50,000 acres (or 18% of the total land area) of the Buzzards Bay watershed, from Fall River to Falmouth, is permanently protected open space. Of that total, 7,750 acres (16%) are protected by local land trusts. Land trusts have a long history of protecting land in southeastern Massachusetts, dating back to the early 1970s. There are currently 10 local and 3 regional land trusts working to protect the southeastern Massachusetts landscape. With the exception of Carver and New Bedford, each Buzzards Bay municipality has its own local land trust.
While the land trust community has made great strides in open space protection, few area land trusts can afford to fund full-time staff members, and most function with only a dedicated board of volunteers. To help the land trust community with their endeavor, the Buzzards Bay Coalition, located in New Bedford, started the Bay Lands Center. The Bay Lands Center focuses on enhancing the land acquisition capabilities of area land trusts by serving as a coordination and service arm to land trusts and property owners. The Center develops land protection strategies, assists staff, and maintains contact with large landowners. The Buzzards Bay NEPs works cooperatively with the Bay Land Center by maintaining an open space database and providing high quality Geographic Information System (GIS) maps to the Center.
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is also a big player in land protection in southeastern Massachusetts. The Commonwealth owns over 24,000 acres of land in the Buzzards Bay watershed, nearly half of all the protected land in our area. The Commonwealth generally purchases land that has extraordinary natural resource features and it prefers to buy lands that build on its existing wildlife management areas and reserves. The Commonwealth’s biggest achievement was the acquisition, in 2000, of 3,800 acres in Fall River, which lead to the creation of the Southeastern Massachusetts Bioreserve.
Annual acquisitions of Open Space in Buzzards Bay (from BBP GPRA Reports)
Buzzards Bay 2009 Regional Open Space Plan
One of the supporting documents to our 2013 Open Space Protection Action Plan is the Regional Open Space Plan finalized by the Buzzards Bay NEP in 2009. The purpose of this plan is to encourage communities and land conservation organizations in the watershed to work cooperatively toward land acquisition and protection goals on a regional scale; to protect biodiversity and safeguard water resources through the protection of undeveloped lands in their natural state; to help leverage funding and resources for open space protection; and to provide a clear and cohesive direction for land protection in Southeastern Massachusetts that is consistent with existing state goals. This planning document will also assist state and federal agencies target public funding for land acquisition.
Buzzards Bay Lands Trusts
Click on the following link for a directory of Buzzards Bay Lands Trusts. The Buzzards Bay NEP provides technical assistance to many of these organizations.
What can landowners do?
How do you protect open space? If you are interested in learning more about how to protect your property, preserve its natural resource values, and generate tax advantages for you and your family, you should contact one of the local or regional land trusts. There are a variety of land protection methods available and most of these options offer several financial benefits and tax incentives.
Landowners often make conservation gifts or restrict future development on their land because they wish to preserve the environmental significance of their property and ensure that their successors will respect their wishes. Representatives from your local land trust will speak with you regarding the special qualities of your property and suggest the best methods for protecting those resources. You should also discuss your options with your legal and financial advisers.
Below is a summary of the principal techniques available to landowners.
A conservation restriction, also called a conservation easement, is one of the most promising techniques available for promoting land conservation. A conservation restriction is a strategy that allows the landowner to maintain ownership and use of the land while limiting development on the property, ensuring that the land remains in the condition the landowner wishes. A conservation restriction is an addition to the existing property deed and the conditions in the conservation restriction are binding on all future owners.
There is great flexibility in creating a conservation restriction. Activities such as farming, forest management, and other land uses that the property owner wishes to pursue are often allowed. A conservation restriction can even be tailored to exclude a portion of the property so that a future home may be built. The landowner’s ability to sell the property or bequeath it to heirs remains. The tax benefits, including a reduction in estate and property taxes, are often substantial.
A. Gifts in Fee Simple
Most of the land protected by conservation groups and municipal conservation commissions has been acquired through outright gifts of the land by generous and willing donors. If land is given for conservation purposes, the receiving organization is required to maintain the land in its natural state in perpetuity. However, the donor may make specific stipulations as to the use of the land such as “forever wild” or passive recreational use only.
The tax benefits of gifting land are numerous – donors are entitled to an income tax deduction of the value of the property. The deduction is allowed to be up to 30 percent of the donor’s taxable income each year for a period of five years, up to the value of the donation. In addition, both property taxes and estate taxes on the land are eliminated.
Land donation is a simple and highly effective means of conserving land. Much of our open space is the result of generous land donations.
B. Gift of a Remainder Interest
A landowner can give away property to a conservation organization or municipal conservation commission but retain the right to live on it. At the death of the landowner, the full ownership of the land transfers to the conservation organization. A gift of a remainder interest will include mutually agreeable conditions concerning the maintenance and management of the land during the landowner’s lifetime. The donor of a remainder interest can generally claim a related income tax deduction and potentially high real estate taxes are eliminated.
A landowner can convey land to an organization such as a land trust in their will. A deduction from the value of one’s taxable estate is allowed for land bequeathed for public purposes.
Landowners may wish to protect property that has conservation value, but are not able to sacrifice what may be their most valuable asset. Limited development can serve as a workable alternative for landowners seeking to preserve their land, and are in need of some direct financial gain from their property.
On appropriate parcels of land, and with a cooperating developer, some development can occur while the remaining land is permanently protected through one or more of the methods described here. The new development should be strategically located to preserve the property’s most critical scenic and natural resources, and the landowner will receive a cash return from the property. This land conservation method is sometimes referred to as Conservation or Open Space Development.
A. Fair market Value
Small regional land trusts and municipal conservation commissions are generally unable to purchase conservation land at fair market value. Larger organizations such as the Trust for Public Lands, The Trustees of Reservations, and The Nature Conservancy, are often more effective at raising large sums of money to purchase exceptional conservation land at fair market value. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has several land conservation programs that occasionally purchase land with significant resources characteristics worth preserving. The Commonwealth prefers to acquire lands that build on its existing open space reserves.
A regional land trust can act as a liaison for owners of land with outstanding resources that are competitive candidates for acquisition by other organizations and agencies.
B. Bargain Sale
Under this method, the landowner sells the property to a charitable organization for less than fair market value. This option is more attractive to prospective purchasers and it can also qualify the seller for income tax deductions, with an overall result comparable to a sale at market value.
Bargain sales are a standard open space acquisition tool for large private land conservation organizations and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. A small local land trust is generally unable to purchase conservation land, even at bargain sale prices. Some regional or statewide land trusts are able to use this option to protect open space deemed critical to a region’s scenic and natural heritage.
C. Agricultural Preservation Restrictions
Administered by the Massachusetts Department of Food and Agriculture, the Agricultural Preservation Restriction (APR) program protects farmlands by purchasing the development rights to the land. A permanent deed restriction is placed on the property, ensuring that the farm is never developed, while the farmer is provided with cash from the sale of the development rights and the ability to continue farming.
The APR program is highly competitive, with preference given to working farms, located in agriculturally productive regions of the state, with highly productive agricultural soils. Acceptance of a farm into the APR program is typically supported by a financial contribution from the local municipality.
Go to our GPRA Report Maps) for more information on specific projects
Links to State and Local Land Conservation Organizations
- Buzzards Bay Coalition
- Dartmouth Natural Resources Trust
- 300 Committee – Falmouth
- Land Trust Alliance
- Massachusetts Audubon Society
- Massachusetts Land Trust Coalition
- Mattapoisett Land Trust
- The Nature Conservancy
- The Trust for Public Land
- The Trustees of Reservations
- Wareham Land Trust
- The Wildlands Trust of SE Massachusetts
- Westport Lands Trust
Links to Key State Agency Links
- Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management
- Massachusetts Division of Conservation Services
- Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection
- Massachusetts Environmental Trust
- Massachusetts Department of Food & Agriculture
- Massachusetts Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program
Links to Land Protection Environmental Organizations
- Conservation Law Foundation
- The Environmental Institute, UMass Amherst
- The Environmental League of Massachusetts
- Green Futures – Fall River
- Lincoln Institute of Land Policy
- Massachusetts Association of Conservation Commissions
- Sierra Club, Massachusetts Chapter
Open Space Activities of the Buzzards Bay NEP.
The Buzzards Bay NEP is preparing municipal open space plans to help towns better protect water quality, wetlands, and habitat through the acquisition or protection of open space. This page has links of acres protected in each town.
An Act Facilitating the use of Land Transfer of Development Rights Approved August 3, 2002 amended this section: 40A-9.htm.
Community Preservation Act amendment at: https://malegislature.gov/Laws/SessionLaws/Acts/2002/Chapter165
LINKS TO RELATED SITES
MA DEP Wetlands Page.
The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection Bureau of Resource Protection Page.