Conservation Easements - A Troubled Adolescence

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The conservation easement is arguably the single most popular private land protection tool in this country today, and its use has increased dramatically (indeed, almost exponentially) over the past two and a half decades. With this increased popularity, however, have come increased reports of abuse and serious questions regarding the efficacy of conservation easements as a land protection tool. To set the stage for John D. Echeverria and Edward Thompson, Jr. to debate the relative merits of voluntary conservation easement acquisitions and “command and control” regulatory efforts, Part II of this article briefly describes conservation easements and how they operate to protect the conservation values of land; Part III describes the dramatic growth in the use of conservation easements over the past two and a half decades; and Part IV highlights some of the more troubling issues that have arisen as a result of the growth in the use of easements, as well as proposals for reform. Part V concludes on an optimistic note, asserting that if reforms can be successfully implemented, conservation easements can emerge from their troubled adolescence to take their appropriate adult role in the panoply of land conservation techniques, and may help lead us to a new paradigm of private property ownership.

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