Interpreting Conservation Easements
29 Probate & Property 30 (2015)
7 Pages Posted: 12 Sep 2015 Last revised: 11 May 2019
Date Written: 2015
Billions of public dollars are being invested in conservation easements through federal, state, and local tax incentive and easement-purchase programs. The National Conservation Easement Database estimates that roughly 40 million acres are now encumbered by conservation easements. As the number of conservation easements grows, the easements become more complex, and the underlying lands change hands, we can expect to see an increasing number of disputes involving the interpretation of these instruments.
A key question in this context is whether conservation easements should be interpreted in favor of "free use of land," which is a rule of construction often applied in the private servitude context. This short article argues that the answer to that question is no, and that conservation easements, which are created to benefit the public and are heavily subsidized by the public, should be interpreted in favor of carrying out their conservation purposes.
Keywords: conservation easement, free use of land, restrictive covenant, restrictive covenant interpretation, in gross, easement interpretation, servitude interpretation, anti-restrictions policy, conservation servitude, public policy
JEL Classification: Q3, Q24, L3
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation