Tuesday, November 9, 2010
Owley on Use of Conservation Easements by Local Governments
Jessica Owley (Buffalo) has posted another informative paper: Use of Conservation Easements by Local Governments, forthcoming in GREENING LOCAL GOVERNMENT, Patricia Salkin and Keith Hirokawa, eds., A.B.A. Publishing, 2011. The abstract:
This chapter (which will be included in the forthcoming Greening Local Government book published by ABA Publishing and edited by Patty Salkin and Keith Hirokawa) briefly introduces conservation easements, explains how local governments can use them, and discusses the appropriate role and extent of their use.
Conservation easements are nonpossessory interests in land restricting a landowner’s activities in a way that yields a conservation benefit. Local governments have been on the cutting edge of using conservation easements, engaging with them on multiple fronts. First, local governments hold conservation easements. This enables local governments to enforce individual agreements and prevent landowners from engaging in environmentally destructive practices. Second, as landowners, local governments encumber public land with conservation easements — affirming their commitments to land conservation. Finally, local governments promote conservation easements. By passing laws supporting and funding conservation easements as well as requiring exacted conservation easements for land-use permits, local governments employ mechanisms that increase the number of conservation easements in their communities.
Conservation easements can protect environmental amenities and deserve praise for their individual nature and ease of establishment. However, conservation easements are static agreements locking in today’s land use preferences and understandings of the natural environment to the potential detriment of future generations with different goals or understandings of the natural world. Furthermore, although praised as an inexpensive method for governments to obtain land conservation, funding necessary for stewardship and enforcement could be significant. As development pressures and understandings of environmental degradation increase, the use of conservation easements by local governments is likely to continue to grow. Local governments should make use of this tool cautiously.
This paper is a helpful resource for practitioners and scholars in understanding the basics of conservation easements. Along with Owley's forthcoming Stanford Environmental Law Journal piece, Changing Property in a Changing World: A Call for the End of Perpetual Conservation Easements, it cautions local government officials to be wary of the conservation easement as a panacea in pursuing environmental planning objectives.