Conserving private lands sustains green, open space and habitats for flora and fauna, and contributes to keeping waterways healthy. Because of these benefits to everyone in the community, federal, state and local government programs exist to provide funds for purchasing qualified easements.


Funds to purchase conservation easements are available through a variety of federal, state and county conservation programs:

field with red shed

Rural Legacy Program

Created in 1997 by the Maryland General Assembly, Maryland’s Rural Legacy program has protected 86,103 acres across the state since its inception. Rural Legacy is administered as a public-private partnership between the Department of Natural Resources, local governments and land trusts across the state. Private land trusts (like the Cecil Land Trust) work cooperatively with DNR staff in purchasing conservation easements from willing landowners in 33 designated Rural Legacy Areas throughout Maryland. In Cecil County, the Cecil Land Trust sponsors and administers the Fair Hill Rural Legacy Area north of I-95, while the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy administers the Sassafras Agricultural Security Corridor Rural Legacy Area along the Grove Neck area of the Sassafras River.

The Rural Legacy Program is designed to protect a combination of farm and forest lands, as well as environmentally sensitive lands such as wetlands and tributary streams. Unlike the MALPF program, where all landowners outside designated growth areas are eligible to participate, the Rural Legacy program was created to target land preservation funding to relatively small Rural Legacy Areas so as to protect large contiguous blocks of rural lands. The Rural Legacy grant process is competitive, and depending in part on the availability of state land preservation funds, not all sponsors or Rural Legacy Areas receive funding in every year. Each Rural Legacy sponsor, including the Cecil Land Trust, is governed by a state-approved protection and prioritization plan for accepting applications and purchasing conservation easements.

The Cecil Land Trust uses two mechanisms to determine prices for the purchase of conservation easements within the Fair Hill Rural Legacy Area. The first is using a state-approved points formula that determines the value of the conservation easement based upon a series of attributes, including soil productivity, the size of the parcel, the presence of stream buffers, among others.

The second (and preferred method) is to match Rural Legacy grant funding with federal Agricultural Land Easement (ALE) funding to purchase conservation easements within the Fair Hill Rural Legacy Area. The advantage of this method is that the Cecil Land Trust is able to double the amount of funding (and acreage) that it is able to use to purchase easements. Under this method, the Cecil Land Trust applies for Rural Legacy funding from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) for certain properties within the Fair Hill Rural Legacy Area (usually in February). If the Cecil Land Trust obtains funding from DNR, we then apply for matching ALE funding from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). As required by the USDA, an appraisal is then completed for the property, and the landowner receives the value of the conservation easement as determined by the appraisal. The entire process for purchasing an easement with matching funding takes approximately 1 ½ – 2 years.

Fair Hill Rural Legacy Area

Fair Hill Rural Legacy Area

Beth Burnam
Executive Director
Cecil Land Trust
(410) 441-3717

AGSEC Sassafras Rural Legacy Area

Agricultural Security Corridor – Sassafras Rural Legacy Area

Jared Parks
Land Protection Specialist
Eastern Shore Land Conservancy
(410) 690-4603

Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Program (MALPF)

white barn with tractorEstablished in 1977 by the Maryland General Assembly, MALPF is the second oldest farmland preservation program in the country, and has preserved 2,207 farms on 299,234 acres across the state. In Cecil County, MALPF has protected more than 14,754 acres. MALPF is governed by a state board of trustees, representing various agricultural interests from across the state, and who are responsible for the final approval and all revisions of MALPF easements. However, MALPF is administered locally by an administrator at the Cecil County Department of Planning and Zoning, and by the Cecil County Agricultural Preservation Advisory Board. The latter is comprised of five members (including four farmers) appointed by the County Executive.

MALPF purchases conservation easements using funds from the state agricultural transfer tax and a portion of the state real estate transfer tax. MALPF’s purchase of conservation easements is divided into two annual funding rounds. Round One purchases are based on a County ranking system, whereby all MALPF applications in Cecil County are scored and ranked based upon a series of attributes. These attributes include soil productivity and class, size of the parcel, the amount of adjacent protected lands, whether the property owner is an active farmer, and whether the property is within a county agricultural preservation district.

Round Two of the MALPF program is based upon discounting, or the willingness of an applicant to accept a lower than appraised price for the conservation easement. Unlike in Round One, where each county is given an allotment to purchase conservation easements, applicants in Round Two compete with landowners from across the State, and there is no guarantee that an application will be accepted in every county. To understand how discounting works, if the appraisal determines the value of the conservation easement to be $5,000 per acre, while the landowner submits an asking price of $3,000 per acre, than the landowner has agreed to discount by $2,000 per acre or 40% of the value of the easement.

To qualify for the program, properties must be a minimum of 50 acres in size, or, if it is less than 50 acres in size, the property must be contiguous to at least 50 acres of protected MALPF lands. In addition, at least 50% of the soils on the property must be classified as prime agricultural soils (Class I, II, or III). Please contact the Cecil Soil Conservation District if you have questions regarding the soil types and classifications on your land. Unlike with donated easements where the landowner is responsible for paying for an appraisal, the state pays for two appraisals to be completed for each MALPF application submitted. Also unlike with donated easements and other paid easement programs in Maryland, applicants to the MALPF program are required to submit an “asking price” for what they are willing to accept for the easement. In accordance with state law, MALPF must pay landowners at least 25% and no more than 75% of the full-market value of the property for a conservation easement.

MALPF Easement Application Process

Cecil County Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) Program

In 2006, the then Board of Cecil County Commissioners created a local purchase of development rights (PDR) program, modeled on the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation (MALPF) program, and funded by the County Recordation Tax. Since its inception, the program has protected 12 farms on 997 acres.

The program uses the same qualifications and requirements as the MALPF program, although unlike the MALPF program, applicants are required to pay for all costs associated with the easement acquisition including the appraisals and survey. Unlike the MALPF program, which accepts applications from landowners every year (or every other year), the Cecil County PDR Program only accepts applications when funding is available.

Read additional information on Cecil County’s Agricultural Preservation’s PDR program


Cecil County Agricultural Preservation Districts

While MALPF Agricultural Preservation Districts were abolished by state law in 2006, Cecil County has chosen to retain the district program. Those landowners interested in participating in the MALPF program and/or the Cecil County PDR program are encouraged to voluntarily enroll in a Cecil County Agricultural District.

By enrolling into an Agricultural Preservation District for a minimum of five years, landowners agree to not develop or subdivide their property in exchange for a 50% property tax credit on the unimproved acres of the property. The minimum qualification requirements to participate in the District program are the same as the MALPF program. Those landowners who enroll in the District program are granted five (5) additional points under the County scoring and ranking process for the MALPF program.

Download additional information about the Cecil County Agricultural Preservation District Program

Contact for MALPF and Cecil County PDR Easements
Stephen J. O’Connor

Cecil County MALPF Program and PDR Administrator
Office of Planning and Zoning
200 Chesapeake Blvd, Suite 2300
Elkton, MD 21921
(410) 996-5220

forestForest Legacy Program

The Forest Legacy Program was first created by Congress as part of the 1990 U.S. Farm Bill to protect large contiguous tracts of private forest lands threatened by development pressures. The program purchases conservation easements in designated Forest Legacy Areas in coordination between the U.S. Forest Service and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. The program has protected 2,014 acres in Maryland, including 854 acres in Cecil County.

The following qualifications are required to participate in the Forest Legacy Program:

  • The property must be located in one of the three Forest Legacy Areas in Cecil County (as shown by the below map)
  • At least 75% of the property must be forested (25% can be agriculture or other qualified open space)
  • The property must be at least 50 acres in size
  • The landowner must have an up-to-date and approved Forest Management Plan for property prepared by a licensed forestry professional

Forest Legacy Areas in Cecil County

Forest Legacy Eligible AreaInterested landowners must apply directly through Colleen Kenny (contact information below) at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. Applications are selected based on the availability of state matching funding. Preference is given to larger forest properties, and/or those properties immediately adjacent to significant acreages of protected forested lands.

Like the Agricultural Land Easement (ALE) program through USDA, the Forest Legacy Program requires an appraisal to be completed for each selected to property, which will determine the value of the conservation easement and the cash payment provided to the landowner.

Maryland Forest Legacy Contact

Colleen Kenny – Forest Health Watershed Planner, Forest Service
Department of Natural Resources
580 Taylor Avenue, Suite E-1
Annapolis, MD 21401
(410) 260-8530


Local Forestry Resource

Tom Frederick – Project Forester
Maryland Forest Service
Black Hill Ranger Station
130 McKinneytown Road
North East, MD 21901
(410) 287-5777