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Conservation Toolkit

U.S. Forest Service | Environment and Natural Resources

Land Conservation and Acquisition Tools

Purchase of Development Rights

A purchase of development rights (PDR) program uses a conservation easement to compensate landowners for voluntarily limiting future development of their land while they retain full ownership. Usually, under PDR the landowner retains rights to continued farming, ranching, or logging.

PDR programs began in the Eastern U.S. in the 1970s as a public financing method to prevent farmland from being sold, subdivided, and developed. The landowner is able to retain ownership and title to the land and buffer the property from development pressures while being compensated for the fair market value of the real estate development rights associated with the land. PDR is a voluntary process and is only undertaken by an interested and willing landowner.

As opposed to buying the land outright, PDR can be a practical and affordable alternative for public protection of private land. Purchase of development rights is also an effective way for farmers or ranchers to reduce debt or property taxes and invest in agricultural operations or retirement. Since the land value may be reduced up to 75% after the development rights have been extinguished, PDR also has been used as a way to avoid steep inheritance taxes.

Although PDR and conservation easements are similar, the two methods of land protection have some distinct differences. Purchase of development rights is the act of purchasing and extinguishing development rights associated with a parcel of land, while conservation easements may be sold or donated and may have implications and provisions other than retirement of development rights. Thus, a conservation easement is a legal tool used to transfer rights from a private landowner to a public agency or private conservation organization; PDR is simply the purchase and restriction of development rights—the rights are also sold, not donated. As with conservation easements, the terms of a PDR sale are tailored to the needs of the landowner, purchasing party, and the parcel of land.

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