Changing Property in a Changing World: A Call for the End of Perpetual Conservation Easements

57 Pages Posted: 26 Oct 2010 Last revised: 25 Jun 2013

Jessica Owley

University at Buffalo Law School

Date Written: August 1, 2010

Abstract

Increasing environmental problems, including those associated with climate change, highlight the need for land conservation. Dissatisfaction with public methods of environmental protection has spurred conservationists to pursue private options. One of the most common private land conservation tools is the conservation easement. At first blush, this relatively new servitude appears to provide a creative method for achieving widespread conservation. Instead, however, conservation easements often fail to accommodate the reality of our current environmental problems. These perpetual (often private) agreements lack flexibility, making them inappropriate tools for environmental protection in the context of climate change and our evolving understanding of conservation biology.

This article addresses concerns with the widespread use of conservation easements, advocating for improved conservation easements and better decision making as to when to use conservation easements. A first step in rethinking our approach to the use of conservation easements is to shift from perpetual conservation easements to renewable term conservation easements. Although perpetuity is one of the defining aspects of most conservation easements, it is neither realistic nor desired. In their current static form, conservation easements are not receptive to change in ecology or society. Where conservation easements are of a limited duration, their economic, societal, and conservation value can be more readily assessed and considered when making land-use decisions. Additionally, many conservation easements are already beset with durability concerns. Instead of forcing a cumbersome and unrealistic perpetuity requirement on conservation easements, we should use agreements with a revisitation date. By shifting the initial assumption that these agreements will not be perpetual, we can create responsive agreements and make better decisions regarding when conservation easements are appropriate.

Keywords: Conservation Easements, Perpetuity, Climate Change, Adaptive Management

JEL Classification: Q15, Q24, R14, R52

Suggested Citation

Owley, Jessica, Changing Property in a Changing World: A Call for the End of Perpetual Conservation Easements (August 1, 2010). Stanford Environmental Law Journal, Vol. 30, p. 121, 2011; Buffalo Legal Studies Research Paper No. 1697653. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1697653

Jessica Owley (Contact Author)

University at Buffalo Law School ( email )

School of Law
528 O'Brian Hall
Buffalo, NY 14260-1100
United States
716-645-8182 (Phone)
716-645-2064 (Fax)

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