Conservation organizations rely on conservation easements for diverse purposes, including protection of species and natural communities, working forests, and open space. This research investigated how perpetual conservation easements incorporated property rights, responsibilities, and options for change over time in land management. We compared 34 conservation easements held by one federal, three state, and four nonprofit organizations in Wisconsin. They incorporated six mechanisms for ongoing land management decision-making: management plans (74 %), modifications to permitted landowner uses with discretionary consent (65 %), amendment clauses (53 %), easement holder rights to conduct land management (50 %), reference to laws or policies as compliance terms (47 %), and conditional use permits (12 %). Easements with purposes to protect species and natural communities had more ecological monitoring rights, organizational control over land management, and mechanisms for change than easements with general open space purposes. Forestry purposes were associated with mechanisms for change but not necessarily with ecological monitoring rights or organizational control over land management. The Natural Resources Conservation Service-Wetland Reserve Program had a particularly consistent approach with high control over land use and some discretion to modify uses through permits.
The major challenge to stewardship of protected areas is to decide where, when, and how to intervene in physical and biological processes, to conserve what we value in these places. To make such decisions, planners and managers must articulate more clearly the purposes of parks, what is valued, and what needs to be sustained.
Governments at all levels are increasingly engaging the challenges posed by global climate change. Conservation easements have provided income tax deductions to their grantors for decades in recognition of certain special benefits afforded by the conservation of land subject to the easement.1 As policy makers search for effective means to address climate change issues, conservation easements may well be recognized as an important tool. However, the current law of conservation easements does not recognize the full potential for carbon capture resulting from land conservation, in part because the tax code limits the types of land that may benefit from such easements. Current laws will need to be revised and expanded to better recognize the climate change benefits that could be achieved from placing land under conservation easements.
This Article explains that one of the consequences of climate change will be migrations of species from their native habitats to newer habitats, typically to the north, with climates similar to those in which such species evolved. These in-migrating species will in many cases be invasive, forcing the native species to out-migrate or be driven to extinction, thereby causing biodiversity loss. As many of these disrupted ecosystems may be protected by perpetual conservation easements, the Article discusses the negative legal consequences of incursions by non-native species on these existing conservation easements. Accordingly, the Article suggests a number of changes that can be made to future conservation easements to help insure their protection of land in perpetuity and to better protect species and their habitats from the effects of climate change-caused migrations.
Perpetual conservation easements (CEs) are popular for restricting development and land use, but their fixed terms create challenges for adaptation to climate change. The increasing pace of environmental and social change demands adaptive