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Reinventing Conservation Easements

A Critical Examination and Ideas for Reform

Jeff Pidot

September 2005, English

Conservation easements represent one of the most rapid trends in land conservation. Beyond tax credits, tax deductions, and other public subsidies that provide financial incentive for landowners to enter into conservation partnerships, this phenomenon is fueled by the perception that conservation easements are a win-win strategy in land protection, benefiting both landowners and the environment.

To obtain a conservation easement, landowners work with private land trusts or government agencies to establish the easement. The landowner voluntarily enters into a written agreement to follow certain conservation guidelines. Conservation easements are meant to provide lasting protection of the landscape, and are welcomed by many as achieving land conservation goals with minimal government intervention or regulation. But just how effective are conservation easements as an environmental protection strategy?

In Reinventing Conservation Easements: A Critical Examination and Ideas for Reform, Jeff Pidot asks: Are the increasing numbers of unsupervised land trusts and conservation easements throughout the nation good for our (and their) future? What kinds of reforms should be considered to create a greater level of confidence in this popular conservation instrument?

This Policy Focus Report addresses issues surrounding conservation easements. Conservations easements are a valuable land protection tool (complementing regulation, land acquisition, and tax policies), but the laws and conventions governing conservation easements require reforms to ensure and sustain their public benefits. While the author advances the view that such reforms are needed, this report is intended to stimulate critical thinking and provide an array of perspectives rather than to dictate particular solutions. Conservation easements should be evaluated and governed in the context of conservation-easement time, which is not the present but the long-term future. Otherwise, we may simply leave to future generations a legal chaos involving many thousands of conservation easements whose terms, holders, and locations may be difficult to determine, and whose public benefits ultimately could be lost.

About the Author

Jeff Pidot was a visiting fellow at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy from fall 2004 to summer 2005, researching, writing, and speaking about conservation easement issues and reforms. During this period he was on leave from his work as Chief of the Natural Resources Division of the Maine Attorney General’s Office, a position he has held since 1990. He has been an active participant in the land trust movement in Maine and has a wealth of experience with conservation easements in both his professional and volunteer work.


Assessment, Conservation, Conservation Easements, Land Trusts, Land Use Planning, Natural Resources, Open Space, Property Taxation, Public Policy, Tax Reform, Taxation