Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Conservation Easements and Climate Change

I hope you will all indulge me as I convert this blog to the Land Use and Conservation Easement Prof's blog for the next week or so, but the conservation easement world has just been jumping this past couple of months and I am finally finding time to sit down and write a series of posts about some of the developments.

As seems only natural on something as self-indulgent as a blog, I thought I would start with self-promotion. I have been thrilled to be part of a six-university research project about conservation easements for the past few years. As with many large-scale data-driven projects, it can take a while for some of the research to show up in print (well actually that is true with all my projects regardless of their size).

Our latest article is coming out in Conservation Letters (one of the peer-reviewed publications of the Society for Conservation Biology). Those of you with access to the journal can view an "accepted articles" version of the paper already. This version has not yet been type-set or formatted but the article is in the final version. We have received limited permission to post the piece on SSRN, so you can see a slightly earlier draft version there.

The article, entitled "Adapting Conservation Easements to Climate Change," discusses some of the struggles existing conservation easements (and conservation easement holders) face when addressing climate change. We draw upon a study of 269 conservation easements in 6 different states and over 70 interviews with conservation easement holders. Adena Rissman is the lead author.

Adena R. Rissman, Jessica Owley, M. Rebecca Shaw & Barton H. Thompson, Adapting Conservation Easements to Climate Change Conservation Letters, doi: 10.1111/conl.12099 (2014)

ABSTRACT: 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 conservation instruments. To examine the adaptive potential of CEs, we surveyed 269 CEs and interviewed 73 conservation organization employees. While only 2% of CEs mentioned climate change, the majority of employees were concerned about climate change impacts. CEs share the fixed-boundary limits typical of protected areas with additional adaptation constraints due to permanent, partial property rights. CEs often have multiple, potentially conflicting purposes that protect against termination but complicate decisions about principled, conservation-oriented adaptation. Monitoring is critical for shaping adaptive responses, but only 35% of CEs allowed organizations to conduct ecological monitoring. Additionally, CEs provided few requirements or incentives for active stewardship of private lands. We found four primary options for changing land use restrictions: CE amendment, management plan revisions, approval of changes through discretionary consent, and updating laws or policies codified in the CE. Conservation organizations, funders, and the IRS should promote processes for principled adaptation in CE terms, provide more active stewardship of CE lands, and consider alternatives to the CE tool.




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