In general, baseline documentation is a record of what the land subject to a conservation easement looks like at the time of the donation. Maps, descriptions, and pictures of the preserved property and resources are important for outlining the conservation goals of the donor, as well as enforcing the conservation easement and settling future disputes about the use of the land.
In order to receive a charitable deduction for the donation of a conservation easement the IRS may require that the donor provide baseline documentation to the holder. Baseline documentation is required if a donor reserves any right to the land that may impair a protected conservation interest. A reserved right might include the right to extract minerals from the subsurface estate or the right to controlled burns of the property.
If the terms of the easement contain restrictions to protect a particular natural resource, such as a water body or wetland, the donor must establish the condition of the resource at the time of the donation. The documentation, including the maps and photographs, must be accompanied by a statement signed by the donor and the holder clearly referencing the documentation that states “This natural resources inventory is an accurate representation of [the protected property] at the time of the transfer”.
Baseline documentation should be “clearly defined and sufficiently detailed to allow for meaningful comparison in the future.”[i] There should be enough of a description to fully document the conservation interests meant to be protected, such as numerical estimates of flora and fauna species and habitat acres, and thorough explanations of open space and scenic areas. However, there is no need to supply information on resources that are not protected by the conservation easement, even if it could be considered a conservation interest. The documentation should show the condition of the property as close to the time the donation is made as possible. It should be signed by the landowner and the holder at closing. If baseline documentation cannot be made at closing, perhaps because of the season, the donor should present a plan for obtaining such documentation at a later date.
Proper documentation may include: survey maps from the United States Geological Survey, showing the property line and other contiguous or nearby protected areas; a map of the area drawn to scale showing all existing man-made improvements or incursions, vegetation and identification of flora and fauna, land use history, and distinct natural features; an aerial photograph of the property at an appropriate scale; and on-site photographs taken at appropriate locations on the property.[ii]