Monday, December 14, 2009

The ACE Basin and Conservation Easements

Refuge Headquarters

The ACE Basin of the South Carolina Lowcountry--a land area surrounded by the Ashepoo, Combahee, and Edisto Rivers--is one of the largest and best examples of the power of conservation easements.  Established in an area that once boasted wealthy rice plantations that turned into some of the nation's most favored sites for the winter sporting life, the ACE Basin as a land use initiative celebrated its twentieth birthday today.  Read more about this topic in an article by Bo Peterson, "ACE Basin at 20:  A Public-Private Patchwork of Preserved Lands is Facing New Era of Threats," Post & Courier (Dec. 14, 2009). 

Although most conservation easements in this part of the world have not faced litigation threats, this risk may increase as future owners find themselves subject to the easements and seek to challenge "dead hand" control.  Although the original grantors of the easements felt tied to the land and wanted to protect it (a great expression of personhood theory for 1L property profs), the non-profits that hold the easements today have limited funds.  Their ability to defend against challenges by future generations who may or may not share this attachment will depend on their resources, management decisions, and the willingness of courts to favor original intent and support conservation as a type of productive land use.

Photo notes:  The Grove Plantation House, circa 1828, is one of only three antebellum houses in the ACE Basin to survive the Civil War.  Former owners placed it on the National Register of Historic Places to help ensure its survival for future generations.  It now houses the Ernest F. Hollings ACE Basin National Wildlife Refuge.  Click here for more information about the house and here for a link to the Refuge's official brochure.

Will Cook, Charleston School of Law

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