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Conservation Easements - Constructive or Destructive?
by David Guernsey

Conservation easements, where a landowner sells development rights to the government and keeps timber management and harvesting rights, are increasingly being viewed as "win-win" solutions to conservation problems.
As anyone who has been around for a while knows, "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is." What happens if a local community needs the land for a new school, hospital or other public purpose? It must first secure the land from the private owner, then go to the appropriate government agency or legislative authority for the right to use it. Sometimes a land trust or
other non governmental agency will hold third party rights which must be dealt with. More often than not such complex negotiations are impractical or impossible.

Definition: Conservation Easement - Fragmentation of land title to deny future generations a full range of productive land use options.

Full fee acquisition and regulation are actually less powerful preservation weapons than such title fragmentation as they can be reversed by a single governmental action. Title fragmentation is thus a sort of "Humpty Dumpty" affair where the pieces are extremely difficult to reassemble. The level of government which controls the easement becomes very important in such public
reversal attempts. Local governments have the interests of local people at heart; federal and state agencies do not.

Legislation is clearly indicated to protect local communities from the dark side of conservation easements. Municipal or County government should have absolute power to prohibit a higher government controlled conservation easement within their jurisdiction. They should retain sufficient authority within their jurisdiction to ensure an allowed easement can be reversed in
the future if in the interests of their citizens.


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