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Permanent land protection leaves a conservation legacy

Woman standing in field of tall prairie grass

Conservation easements are a powerful tool for safeguarding natural resources, preserving wildlife habitat, and protecting ecological diversity in Hennepin County. They restrict specific development activities, ensuring that the land's intrinsic value remains intact while allowing landowners to maintain ownership and use of their property.

In Hennepin County, we are working to establish 6,000 additional acres of conservation easements by 2040. This will provide habitat for a diversity of wildlife, give residents a space to connect with nature, and make our communities more resilient to climate change.

What is a conservation easement?

Rolling grass hills with milkweed flowerA conservation easement is a voluntary agreement between the landowner and an organization such as the Minnesota Land Trust or Hennepin County. They provide permanent protection, ensuring that the land is preserved for future generations.

While the landowner continues to own and use the land, the easement preserves the conservation values of the property, even if the property is sold in the future. Conservation easements provide a way for people to leave a legacy of environmental stewardship and contribute to broader conservation efforts while continuing to enjoy what they value about their land.

Protecting native habitats is a climate solution

Conservation easements help mitigate the impacts of climate change by protecting areas that store carbon, support resilient ecosystems, minimize habitat fragmentation, and encourage sustainable land use practices.

Storing carbon

Preservation of existing habitat is one of the most cost-effective ways to mitigate climate change. Many types of forests, wetlands, prairies, and other natural areas can act as natural “carbon sinks,” capable of absorbing and storing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This stored carbon plays a crucial role in offsetting human-generated greenhouse gas emissions, making it a critical part of achieving Hennepin County’s goal of net zero emissions by 2050. Conversely, when forests are cleared or wetlands drained for development, carbon stored in the trees and soil can be released into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change.

Supporting resilient ecosystems

Tamaracks in autumnClimate change is already affecting ecosystems, making them more vulnerable to disturbances like wildfires, floods, and extreme weather. Preserving natural landscapes through conservation easements and improving species diversity on protected land helps these natural areas stay resilient to the impacts of climate change.

Large tracts of intact habitat are vital for maintaining healthy populations of wildlife and protecting animal and plant biodiversity. Conservation easements also play a significant role in safeguarding watersheds from development, absorbing stormwater to prevent flooding, and reducing the pollution entering our rivers, lakes, and streams.

Minimizing habitat fragmentation

By protecting land from development, these agreements help preserve open spaces and natural landscapes and prevent forests and prairies from being turned into parking lots and roads. Conservation easements also limit the space that housing developments and roads can occupy, reduce habitat fragmentation, and create important corridors of natural areas in an otherwise suburban landscape.

Encouraging sustainable practices

Conservation easements often encourage landowners to implement other sustainable land use practices like regenerative agriculture that help capture more carbon from the atmosphere and restore native habitats. We’ve also found that when one or two neighbors establish conservation easements, it often encourages others nearby to do the same!

A tradition of land protection

Looking up at the sky through tall treesHennepin County along with partners like the Minnesota Land Trust, the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources, cities, Three Rivers Park District, and private landowners have already established nearly 1,000 acres of conservation easements across 60 different easements, protecting natural areas forever.

Over 300 acres of these permanently protected areas were established through the Reinvest in Minnesota Reserve (RIM) easement program. RIM, which started in 1986, focuses on protecting soil, water, and wildlife by permanently protecting and restoring wetlands and surrounding habitats on sensitive or marginal agricultural lands.

The first RIM easements in the county were established in 1987 to protect wetland and buffer habitat. The legacy of land and water protection that started with these initial projects continues to provide benefits to the wildlife and people of Hennepin County. The landowners who chose to embark on this effort are local conservation leaders.

Over the past five years, Hennepin County has greatly expanded and accelerated the work of establishing conservation easements by partnering with a nonprofit organization, the Minnesota Land Trust, to secure funding through the state’s Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Fund.

Since 2018, Hennepin County and the Minnesota Land Trust have been awarded over $9.3 million from the Outdoor Heritage Fund, making possible the addition of more than 360 acres of conservation easements as well as funding restoration projects on protected land.

Conservation easement highlights

The following are a few examples of conservation easements that have successfully protected ecologically significant areas, improved connections among natural areas, increased climate resiliency, and restored native habitats.

  • Planting 15,000 trees on a conservation easement in Independence – watch the project video to learn more.
  • Restoring diverse and natural lands on 389 acres of pasture – read the Minnesota Land Trust story.
  • Completing a habitat corridor connecting Lake Rebecca Regional Park and Lake Sarah with a 13-acre easement in Independence. The corridor includes six separate easements covering 38 acres established one-by-one over the last 30 years. After the easement was established, 1,200 trees were planted on 3.5 acres and two acres of former farm field was planted with native flowers and grasses to restore upland tallgrass prairie. Watch a time-lapse of the reforestation.
  • Protecting the most pristine lake in Hennepin County – Little Long Lake in Minnetrista – with more than 550 acres of habitat permanently protect by conservation easements and property owned by the Three Rivers Park District.
  • Restoring native prairie along the Minnesota River Valley by working in partnership with the City of Eden Prairie, Metropolitan Airports Commission, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
  • Protecting shoreline along Lake Independence and supporting the conservation ethic of the landowner, who uses the forest to make maple syrup and teach traditional Indigenous practices.

Permanently protect your land and leave a conservation legacy

Distant people collecting seed in a prairiePartnering with private landowners and partner organizations is critical to achieving our goal of protecting 6,000 acres of the best remaining natural areas and open spaces in Hennepin County.

Properties that may be a good fit for a conservation easement include those that contain rare plants or animals, are near to or encompass high quality habitat, or are at risk of being lost due to development. Though conservation easements may not be a good fit for all properties, the county also has funding and technical assistance available to landowners for habitat improvement projects.

If you or someone you know is interested in leaving a legacy of environmental stewardship by establishing a conservation easement, learn more at

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