Who Should Protect the Forest?: Conservation Easements in the Forest Legacy Program
33 Public Land and Resources Law Review 47 (2012)
47 Pages Posted: 9 Jul 2012 Last revised: 10 Sep 2017
Date Written: September 26, 2012
Increasingly, governments are turning to nongovernemental actors to carry out environmental protection goals. This has been particularly prevalent in the realm of land conservation. Government programs often draw upon the power of nonprofit conservation organizations known as land trusts to monitor, manage, and enforce land protection goals. Reliance on land trusts has created both philosophical and practical conundrums. These concerns also stem in part from the chief land protection tool used by land trusts: conservation easements. This article examines these concerns by a close look at the role of land trusts and conservation easements in the Forest Legacy Program.
Administered by the U.S. Forest Service, the Forest Legacy Program seeks to slow conversion of private forestlands to nonforest uses. Conservation easements form a key element of the Program, but their use is complicated. In creating the Program, Congress seemed to both want to encourage the involvement of land trusts and to curb their reach. The Program draws upon the power of private organizations, and increasingly calls upon land trusts to carry out the duty of protecting forestlands and yet stops short of enabling these organizations to receive Program funds or to enforce conservation easements purchased with Program funds. Thus, in the FLP, Congress inches toward privatization of forestland conservation, but holds back. This stance is bewildering. If Congress was concerned with the involvement of land trusts in forestland conservation, it seems to give them too much power. If Congress wanted to encourage greater land trust involvement, it seems to stop too short.
Keywords: forest legacy program, conservation easements, land trusts, forest policy, land conservation
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