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Conservation Easements

New information added on January 21, 2009

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Conservation Easements -
A Short
Explanation of Terms

By Carol W. LaGrasse (July 2002)

"The Environmental Trust Bankruptcy" - by Darrel Beck (Reprinted by permission from newsletter of Citizens for Private Property Rights, Santa Ysabel, California, Sept. 2005)
The San Diego-based land trust called The Environmental Trust filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy last spring, leaving behind debt exceeding #13 million, many unrecorded conservation easements, incompletely deposited endowment funds, and inadequate financial ability to protect "critical habitat" on lands it was obligated to manage.

"Conservation Easements — The Hidden Inevitable Truths"
- OpEd by Clarice Ryan, Big Fork, Montana, July 4, 2004
Down-to-earth reflections on the perpetuity of conservation easements.

"LAND Responds to Minnesota Governor's Plan" - By Chuck Damschen, LAND Past President (Reprinted by permission from Landowners Association of North Dakota, January 2004, p. 3)
LAND expresses concern over Minnesota Governor Pawlenty's expanded Conservation Reserve Enhancement Plan. Landowners are having negative experiences with perpetual easements. LAND favors short-term easements that can be renegotiated on a regular basis.

"Land Trust Bonanza in 'Faith Based Initiative' Blocked Again in Congress"
- PRFA, September 2003
The House Ways and Means Committee approved HR 7, Pres. Bush's Faith Based Initiative, but
struck out a land acquisition/conservation easement provision for a capitol gains break that would
benefit the land trusts to the tune of a billion dollars.

"Farm Bureau seeks limits for conservation easements" - by Steve Miller, West River Editor, Rapid City Journal, August 26, 2003 (Reprinted by permission of the Rapid City Journal)
The South Dakota Farm Bureau began a petition drive to limit perpetual conservation easements. "Unseen changes in the future can place unintended hardships on future property owners," said Dick Kjerstad, president.

"Senate Drops Stealth Measure for Capital Gains Tax Relief"
— By Carol W. LaGrasse (PRFA, June 24, 2002)
A capital gains tax credit of 25 percent was to favor landowners who sell land or conservation easements to land trusts or government. This "conservation" provision was hidden in Bush's "Faith-based Initiative."

Asst. Sec. of U.S. Dept. of Interior responds to LaGrasse
(DOI Letter, June 18, 2002)
Commenting specifically on LaGrasse's March 10, 2002 letter to DOI, Lynn Scarlet, Asst. Secretary, Policy, Management and Budget, responded, "With respect to your recommendation that endangered, threatened and rare species restoration should be contracted out, the President's Management Agenda does call for a greater focus on competitive sourcing...We share your desire for transparency and a wide range of partnerships for conservation."

"Congress Holds Stacked Hearing on Conservation Tax Credits"
- By Carol W. LaGrasse
(PRFA, May 4, 2002)
Fifty percent capital gains tax break would shift title to private land and conservation easements to land trusts and government. Land trusts, members of Congress, and big industry testify exclusively. However, articles give visibility to property rights activists' objections to Administration proposal.

July 2001:
"Pennsylvania Passes Conservation Easement Legislation"

- Carol W. LaGrasse
(PRFA, July 2001)
Uniform Conservation Easement Act passes with modifications to third party enforcement provisions, plus clauses intended to protect forestry and coal interests

Update - June 2001:
"Conservation Easement Bill in Pennsylvania Legislature-H.R. 975 Would Cancel Protections for Private Property, Allow Third Parties to Enforce Conservation Easements"

- Carol W. LaGrasse (PRFA, June 2001)

See Also
See Also

Conservation Easements - New York

Land Trusts

Essentail Books & Publications
Essential Books
& Publications

"Uniform Conservation
Easement Act"

Drafted by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Law
(complete text of model law)

Now in its third reprint: For a copy of the complete text of "Conservation Easements," explaining why they are a "wolf in sheep's clothing":
Send $3.00 (incl. p&h) to PRFA for Positions on Property, Vol. 5, No. 1 (July 2000). Includes "Informed Consent."
N.Y. State residents please add 7% sales tax.

Additional Helpful Organizations
Additional Helpful

Attention Virginia Residents—June 2001:
The Virginia Land Rights Coalition has just published an attention-grabbing little booklet to help fight conservation easements. It is entitled "Return of the Dead Hand" and is available upon request.
(A small donation to cover postage and handling is appreciated.)

Additional Resources
Additional Resources

Testimony to National Parks Subcommittee
Hearing on the National Historic Register, April 21, 2005
By Peter F. Blackman
The National Register is supposed to be elective and an honor. The National Park Service literature trumpets time and again that you can do anything you wish with your house without penalty. The "National Park Service and others will use the National Register as a bludgeon against the property owner and trample his property rights, if they can."

"Supplemental Statement to Testimony"
Subcommittee on National Parks
Hearing on the National Historic Register, April 21, 2005
By Peter F. Blackman
Owner of house in the Historic Green Springs District located in Louisa County, Virginia, cannot repair his unexceptional, decrepit house because of National Park Service's purported conservation easement on his house. The dispute is in litigation.

"The Cost of Open Space"
-By Pat Taylor, Realtor Magazine Online, October, 2004
Efforts to conserve land raise property rights, affordability and tax concerns into the future with hands tied, under new scrutiny, know conservation easement value.

Michigan Model Conservation Easement
(March 2003)
This model document, which was provided by Rachel Thomas as a form used by the State of Michigan, contains typical clauses demonstrating the danger of conservation easements.


A Review of the Law of Easements
Continuing education course available, document covers fundamentals of easement law and more. Concepts discussed enable an understanding of many principles of easement law in this country.
By Schroeder Law Offices, P.C.
Serving Oregon, Washington, Idaho & Nevada since 1991


In-Depth Information

  • "Conservation Easements: Letter to a Wisconsin Property Owner" - By Carol W. LaGrasse, Property Rights Foundation of America, Inc., July 31, 2012
    In response to a letter from a Wisconsin property owner about the State of Wisconsin's announced plan to acquire conservation easements on 67,346 forest acres to become the Brule-St. Croix Legacy Forest, from Lyme St. Croix Forest Company, this letter gives some broad outlines of areas where the conservation easement acquisition should be given critical scrutiny, and how to obtain useful information.
  • Robert J. Smith"Congressional Designs on Your Property Rights" - By Robert J. Smith, Senior Fellow for Environmental Policy, National Center for Public Policy Research; Adjunct Senior Environmental Scholar, Competitive Enterprise Institute; & President, Center for Private Conservation, Washington, D.C.; Presented at Twelfth Annual National Conference on Private Property Rights (PRFA, Albany, N.Y., October 18, 2008)
    The Bush Administration appointed major corporate and land trust figures such as John Turner, Henry Paulson, Gail Norton and Lynn Scarlet, who were enemies of private property ownership and private property rights, instead emphasizing "partnerships" and conservation easements. The Congress is designating nonstop Wilderness Areas, National Parks, National Battlefields, National Monuments, National Heritage Areas, National Scenic Trails, and Wild and Scenic Rivers. However, Rep. Rob Bishop and Rep. Paul Broun are bright lights for private property rights.
  • James E. Morgan"Conservation Easements and TDR's: Fifth Amendment Takings through Zoning" - By James E. Morgan, Esq., Principal, Galvin and Morgan, Counselors at Law, Delmar, N.Y.; Twelfth Annual National Conference on Private Property Rights (PRFA, Albany, N.Y., October 18, 2008)
    Transferable development rights, or TDR's, are recognized as a way of compensating property owners when the government takes property rights. But the state valued the TDR's in the Long Island Pine Barrens at a fraction of the fair value, rather than take the property by eminent domain, which would have given the property owners more rights. We are going back to a day when property owners are becoming like feudal serfs rather than property owners. Be prepared to fight for the long-term.
  • "Conservation Easements in Perpetuity are for a Long, Long Time" - By Clarice Ryan, Big Fork, Montana - Op Ed, February 21, 2008
    The perpetuity of conservation easements locks in the vision that a property owner has for his land to narrow decisions that were made in the past. Conservation easements disguised as "saving" the environment are placing private land under government control. The "let it burn" policies and the tax burdens to the diminishing property owners are having a profound impact on rural communities faced with Open Space protection. Buyers become scarce for conservation easement land, and tax liens and litigation to try to terminate the covenant lie ahead.
  • Carol W. LaGrasse"New York Property Rights Directions"-Speech by Carol W. LaGrasse, Cato Institute Conference-"Property Rights on the March: Where from Here," December 1, 2006, Washington, D.C.
    An overview of where property rights stand in New York, what the directions are, and where the work for our cause has been effective: focusing on the battle to keep land in private hands, holding off extreme land-use regulation, the issue of conservation easements, regional preservationist land-use battles, ubiquitous zoning conflicts; and eminent domain.
  • "Conservation Easements-Perpetual Problems" - By Julia D. Mahoney, Ph.D., Professor, University of Virginia School of Law, Speech to the Seventh Annual NY Conference on Private Property Rights (PRFA, October 18, 2003)
    Conservation servitudes have been used to protect millions of acres of lands. Is it feasible or desirable to bind future generations? Conservation easements are designed "to prevent the reunification of the interest to the property owner."

Julia D. Mahoney, Ph.D.

Julia D. Mahoney, Ph.D.
  • "Wyoming Conservation Easement Bill Defeated"
    — By Carol W. LaGrasse (PRFA, March 15 2003)
    In a victory for private property rights, legislation that would have enacted the Uniform Conservation Easement Act into law in Wyoming was defeated on March 4, the final day of the session, with a Senate tie vote.
  • "Conservation Easement Reform Bill introduced into the Montana House of Representatives" (Full Text of HR 725, Feb. 24, 2003)
    Representative Rick Maedje introduced legislation into the Montana Legislature in February that would regulate conservation easements. Among the many important proposed reforms, the bill would protect the seller with a two-year cooling off period and prohibit conservation easements from preventing natural resource uses.
  • "Conservation Easements" - By Richard E. Hitchcock
    (PRFA, August 2002)
    A short, non-technical explanation of the nature of conservation easements and recent laws, including the Uniform Conservation Easement Act, that modify traditional easement law.
  • "Conservation Easements-A Second Look"-By Carol W. LaGrasse, Speech to the Boone and Crockett Club Annual Meeting, Hilton Rye Town, Rye Brook, N.Y., November 30, 2001 (PRFA, Dec. 2001)
    This speech to the Boone and Crockett Club, a nationwide hunting and conservation association founded by Theodore Roosevelt in 1887, addresses why conservation easements are hostile to hunting and ranching, as well as touching on the common dangers to farming and timber production.
  • "Conservation Easements-One Rancher to Another"-By Joe Mehrten, Mehrten's Ranch, Clements, California.
    An exchange of letters bringing out the many interrelated issues, especially conservation easements, infringing on the future of the rural West. (Click to select from three full letters.)
    • Letter by Joe Mehrten (Jan. 6, 2002) points out, "Conservation easements with private land trusts are so intertwined with government regulations and controls as to be little different from easements sold to public agencies."
    • Response from Bev Sparrowk, Sparrowk Livestock (Jan. 8, 2002) states, "Jack and I have discovered in our exposure to and dealings with government agencies conversation and a spirit of cooperation usually reaps the results we had hoped for."
    • Joe Mehrten's reply (Jan. 29, 2002), after he learned that a government grant, rather than conservation easements, is involved: "[T]he grant application makes it abundantly clear that this project invites destruction of our property rights."
  • A Trio of Articles on Wildlands and Conservation Easements
    • "Pew took a public misstep" - by Carol W. LaGrasse, "President's Corner," Agri-News, May 25, 2001
      A refutation of the denials by Pew Charitable Trust of its connection to the radical Wildlands Project and of the connection of conservation easements to The Wildlands Project.
    • "Innuendo and misstatement..." - Letter to the editor by the Pew Charitable Trusts' Director of Environmental Programs, Joshua Reichert, which was published in Agri-News, May 11, 2001.
      Attacks the reprint of the John Elvin article asserting the connection between wildlands and conservation easements.
    • "Wildlands and Conservation Easements-The Connection Between 'Em"
      A brief summary of a reprinted version in Agri-News, April 13, 2001, of an article by columnist John Elvin in Insight magazine.
  • "Horse Tale"—By Kit Shy (Reprinted by permission, 2001)
    The rancher's story, "Hoss Tale," by surveyor Kit Shy of Westcliffe, Colorado, uses allegory to show how the bundle of rights attached to private property will be desiccated under conservation easements. You don't know whether to laugh or cry.
  • "A Critical Look at Conservation Easements" - By Carol W. LaGrasse (Speech to Tompkins County Farm Bureau, Dryden Veterans of Foreign Wars Hall, Dryden, N.Y., October 26, 2000)
    Benefits for farmers that are attributed to conservation easements are inaccurate, exaggerated and inequitable. The results of conservation easements are the loss of equity and the rights to use the land.
  • Informed Consent
    PRFA's "Informed Consent" checklist is designed to help the private property owner and his legal counsel to level the playing field in dealing with the slick experts who negotiate for the land trusts.
  • "Forest Land Easements—Freezing the Future" - William R. Sayre, Chairman, Forest Policy Task Force, Associated Industries of Vermont, Montpelier, Vt., from Proceedings of the Fourth Annual New York Conference on Private Property Rights (1999)
 William R. Sayre

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