Defining the Role of Conservation in Agricultural Conservation Easements

54 Pages Posted: 11 Dec 2017

Date Written: December 6, 2017


Farmland preservation has become an important pursuit for those seeking to protect the working landscape against conversion to non-agricultural use. One of the most common approaches for securing this protection is through the targeted use of agricultural conservation easements, typically perpetual land use agreements designed to limit incompatible activities in order to preserve future agricultural viability. There is, however, a growing tension within these perpetual agreements, particularly between the need to allow farmers substantial flexibility to adjust to future business conditions and the desire to protect significant non-economic values, including the conservation and environmental benefits that these lands also provide. It is the purpose of this Article to evaluate the role of conservation efforts within this overall framework and to evaluate the potential options for securing greater protection of these important rural amenities.

To this end, Part II of this Article explores the various motivations that fuel farmland preservation nationwide. Part III discusses the evolution of farm policy towards its current degree of multifunctionality and the corresponding development and use of agricultural conservation easements as the preferred protective mechanism. Part IV addresses the growing tension within these agreements as agricultural practice continues to evolve. Last, Part V investigates the various approaches that can be used to protect the environmental attributes of protected agricultural lands. Ultimately, agricultural conservation easements will always require a balance between allowing flexibility for accommodating future needs and protecting rural amenities, but these agreements should actually result in a balance and ensure that the increasingly important conservation and environmental benefits associated with the working landscape are being adequately protected.

Keywords: conservation easement; farmland preservation; agricultural law; conservation; agricultural conservation easement

Suggested Citation

Phelps, Jess R., Defining the Role of Conservation in Agricultural Conservation Easements (December 6, 2017). 44 Ecology Law Quarterly 627 (2017), Available at SSRN:

Jess R. Phelps (Contact Author)

The Lyme Timber Company LP ( email )

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