The idea of a conservation easement – restrictions on the development and use of land designed to protect the land’s conservation or historic values – can be relatively easily understood. More significant and more challenging is the complex body of state and federal laws that shapes the creation, funding, tax treatment, enforcement, modification, and termination of conservation easements.
The explosion in the number of conservation easements over the past four decades has made them one of the most popular land protection mechanisms in the United States. The National Conservation Easement Database estimates that the total number of acres encumbered by conservation easements exceeds 40 million.
Because conservation easements are both novel and ubiquitous, understanding how they actual work is essential for practicing lawyers, policymakers, land trust professionals, and students of conservation. This article provides a “quick tour” through some of the most important aspects of the developing mosaic of conservation easement law. It gives the reader a sense of the complex inter-jurisdictional dynamics that shape conservation transactions and disputes about conservation easements.
Professors of property law, environmental law, tax law, and environmental studies who wish to cover conservation easements in the context of a more general course can use the article to provide their students with a broad but comprehensive overview of the relevant legal and policy issues.
1 Journal of Law, Property, and Society 107 (2015)