Adapting Conservation Easements to Climate Change
Adena R. Rissman
University of Wisconsin-Madison
University at Buffalo Law School
Barton H. Thompson Jr.
Stanford Law School
M. Rebecca Shaw
Environmental Defense Fund
March 25, 2014
Conservation Letters, 2014
SUNY Buffalo Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2014-022
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.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 28
Keywords: climate change, conservation easements, land trusts, private land conservation, protected areas
Date posted: March 29, 2014 ; Last revised: August 2, 2016