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Protect land: Protect land in perpetuity

Protected conservation lands are depicted in three layers: 1) Conservation Restrictions Areas (private lands currently protected from development through the use of conservation restrictions), 2) protected open space that is owned by land trusts and other private conservation organizations, and 3) conservation lands owned by public agencies (federal, state, county or municipal). Data on protected open space is from MassGIS. The next two layers depict areas identified as Biomap2 Core Habitat or Critical Natural Landscape, areas identified by the MA Division of Fisheries and Wildlife as being of high priority for land protection to conserve fish, wildlife and biodiversity. Conductance is a measure of importance for regional-scale connectivity based on the Critical Linkages analyses conducted by UMass Amherst. Areas with high conductance values are represented in brown; the darker the color the more valuable the area is for connectivity.


Protected conservation lands are depicted in three layers: 1) Conservation Restrictions Areas (private lands currently protected from development through the use of conservation restrictions), 2...

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Adaptation Strategies and Actions

Protect land: Protect land in perpetuity

Adaptation type: 
Land protection
Species conservation and management


Permanently protect enough undeveloped land to ensure healthy, self-sustaining ecosystems and maintain the Commonwealth’s fish, wildlife and biodiversity resources

Unlike western states, where public lands make up a large proportion of the landscape, the vast majority of Massachusetts is private land. Given the large number of landowners in MA, it is an ongoing challenge to protect interconnected areas of sufficient size to support wildlife, biodiversity, and ecosystem services? for future generations. Large, interconnected conservation lands are particularly important as a strategy for adapting to climate change because the distributions of plants and animals are likely to shift and keep shifting as temperatures, precipitation, storms, sea level rise and the timing of seasons continue to change over the next several decades.


Protect your land and encourage others to protect their land
The concept of land ownership means little to forests, wildlife, water and soil. Yet to ensure that the wild lands of Massachusetts retain their capacity to support healthy ecosystems, we must permanently protect a substantial portion of our undeveloped land. Private landowners have an enormous role to play in this process as nearly all unprotected land is in private hands.

Many landowners are unaware of how their land fits in to the network of large protected land areas and interconnecting habitat that needs to be protected to maintain fish, wildlife, forests, wetlands and the other natural resources on which we depend. The maps associated with this page provide information about some of the core areas and interconnecting habitat that are of high priority for protection to cope with climate change.

Aerial photo of land

Patterns of land ownership have changed dramatically over the past several decades. There are fewer large tracts of land that have been handed down through the family for generations. Families are changing too; with younger generations often venturing farther from home to pursue their own families and careers. Many Massachusetts landowners are over sixty years old. Over the next 10-20 years, Massachusetts will see a significant generational turnover in land ownership.

Estate planning is an excellent process for thinking about the future of your land and the steps you can take to ensure that your desires and intentions about the land are fulfilled. Engaging in conservation-based estate planning can help you make formal plans to ensure that some or all of your land remains undeveloped while meeting your family's financial and personal goals. For more information about Estate Planning, visit the MassWoods website.

There are a number of options landowners can use to protect their land. Some involve selling or donating the land for conservation; other options allow you to continue to own the land and protect it from development.

Options for protecting your land1:

Donating or Selling Conservation Restrictions: Your land includes several different types of rights, including the right to develop your land, farm, hunt, and manage your woods. A conservation restriction (known as a conservation easement in states other than Massachusetts) is a legal agreement that extinguishes some or all of the development rights of the land forever, but allows your other rights, such as farming, forestry, and recreation to continue, all while maintaining your ownership of the land.

A conservation restriction (CR) is a flexible tool that can be placed on all or only designated parts of your land, allowing you to reserve house lots to provide financial value or housing options for your family. Some CRs allow public access, others do not—it usually depends on which organization you work with and whether you are receiving funds for your CR.

A CR can be donated, which often provides the landowner with a tax deduction for a charitable gift. A CR can be sold for income if the land has exceptional natural resources. A CR can also be sold below market value for both income and tax benefits (see “Bargain Sale” below).

Donating or Selling Land: Land can be permanently protected by donating it or selling it to a qualified conservation organization, such as a land trust or state conservation organization. Donations of land may provide significant tax advantages as a charitable gift.

Bargain Sale: Landowners can sell their land or conservation restrictions at a price below its fair market value. The difference between the appraised market value and the sale price to a qualified conservation organization, such as a land trust or a state conservation organization, is considered a tax-deductible charitable contribution, providing some income and potentially some tax benefits.

Bequest: A donation of land or a conservation restriction through your will is another way to ensure your land’s permanent protection and potentially to reduce your estate tax burden. You can change your will at any time, and a bequest does not become effective until your death. This is a good approach if you need to keep the financial value of your property in reserve in case of unexpected medical bills or other needs, but want to be sure the land will be conserved if you do not need to sell it during your lifetime.

Reserved Life Estate: Landowners sometimes negotiate a gift or sale of the property while reserving the right to occupy and use the property for life. Upon the death of the landowner, control of the property automatically transfers to a conservation organization. The gift of a property with a reserved life estate can qualify the donor for a charitable deduction based on the value of the property donated and the reserved life estate, which is all based on the donor’s age.

Limited Development: Limited development protects the majority of the land while a small portion is sold or maintained by the landowner for future development. In a limited development scenario, the areas with the greatest conservation value are protected through one of the tools described above, while other less sensitive areas of the land are set aside for future development.

For more information about each of these options, visit the MassWoods website. The site includes a feature you can use to find land trusts and other professionals in your area that you can work with to protect your land. For parcel level information about the habitat value of undeveloped land, use Massachusetts Audubon's Mapping & Prioritizing Parcels for Resilience Project tool.

Scope and Constraints

One-time action
Minimal or no cost
Funds available
Tax deductions available


National Fish Wildlife Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy Goal 1: Conserve habitat, diversity, and connectivity
National Fish Wildlife Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy Goal 3: Enhance capacity for management
Forestry Goal 1: Maintain forest cover and function
Forestry Goal 3: Protect rare species and sites


1. Excerpted from

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