Conservation Easements Threatened

Article excerpt

The Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia and North Carolina, and Idaho's Sawtooth National Recreation Area were two of the first public recreation resources to be protected by conservation easements. Many other federal, state and local parks, trails, waterways and wildlife areas have been protected and enhanced by conservation easements as well. But those conservation easements are now being threatened by abuse of property owners.

A conservation easement is a legal agreement between a landowner and a qualified nonprofit or government organization that restricts future activities on the land to protect its conservation, open space and outdoor recreation or historic values. As public policy is becoming more sensitive to the rights of private property owners, there has been a dramatic growth in the use of conservation easements as a land protection tool.

Its uses date back to the 1880s as a way to protect parkways developed by Frederick Law Olmsted, but it wasn't until the late 1970s that all states but Wyoming enacted conservation easement statutes. The use of this land conservation tool has been growing rapidly since the 1990s by non-profit land trusts and government agencies.

The easement is an agreement between a private property owner, who voluntarily agrees to donate or sell certain property use rights, and a non-profit organization or public agency that agrees to hold the landowner's promise not to exercise those rights. Typically, the landowner agrees not to subdivide or develop the property of to use it in any other way than its intended conservation purposes. Under a conservation easement, a property remains privately owned and many types of land uses such as farming, ranching and timber harvesting can continue. …