by Michael Dunn
The conservation covenant is one of the most useful and flexible land stewardship tools we have available to us.
A conservation covenant is a legal tool created by Section 219 of the BC Land Title Act. It was designed for conservation purposes and provides the legal basis for protecting a broad range of ecological, cultural, heritage and other values. Since 1994, a conservation covenant can be held by a non-government conservancy organization designated by the responsible provincial Minister.
Essentially, a conservation covenant is a voluntary written agreement between a landowner and a conservancy organization. It can cover all or just part of a parcel of property. In the agreement, the landowner promises to protect the land in ways that are described in the covenant. For instance, the landowner might agree not to subdivide the land or to provide specific protection for important habitat. The conservancy organization holds the covenant and can enforce it if the owner does not abide by its terms. The conservation covenant is registered against title to the property in the BC Land Title Office. This ensures that it binds future owners of the land, not just the current landowner, since the conservation covenant is intended to last permanently. The beauty of a conservation covenant as an effective conservation tool is in its flexibility, in that:
- it can be individually tailored to address the particular ecological features of the land on which it is registered and the specific conservation objectives of the parties;
- a landowner can grant a covenant covering only those areas of their property with special significance and can use the remainder of the property without restriction;
- conservation covenants can be held by non-governmental conservancy organizations that focus their time, energy and expertise on protecting ecologically important parcels of land throughout the province; and
- it allows these conservancy organizations to harness the considerable interest that exists in communities in protecting many of the communities’ special spaces.
Having conservation covenants does not just benefit the natural and ecological heritage of a community; they also can provide some considerable tax benefits to landowners who participate. Both the provincial and federal governments have established programs whereby the landowners with conservation covenants can seek reduced taxes if these covenants are held by eligible conservancy organizations. Within the Islands Trust Area, the province, through the Natural Areas Property Tax Exemption Program (NAPTEP), allows for the reduction of the property tax assessed value within a covenanted area. As such, the landowner could see a significant reduction is payable property tax. For the federal government, when a property under covenant is certified as ecologically significant and the owner is willing to donate all or a portion to an eligible conservation organization, then there are possible reductions in capital gains and taxable income for the owner.
The great news for Mayne Island is that the Mayne Island Conservancy qualifies in all the above categories as an organization that can hold, manage and monitor conservation covenants, as well as accept, and issue tax receipts for, ecological gifts.