Conservation Easements: Why and How?


According to the census data collected by the Land Trust Alliance (LTA), over the past two decades there has been a dramatic increase in the number of local, state, and regional land trusts operating
in the United States,1 and in the number of acres encumbered by conservation easements2 held by such land trusts.3 In 1980, only 431 local, state, and regional land trusts were operating in the United States, and they held conservation easements encumbering only 128,001 acres.4 As of 2003, the number of local, state, and regional land trusts operating in the United States had jumped to 1,526, and those land trusts held conservation easements encumbering more than 5 million acres.

The dramatic growth in the number of land trusts and the use of conservation easements can be attributed to a variety of factors,including increasing development pressures;6 a growing isillusionment with the government’s ability to adequately protect land from development through regulatory measures;7 the enactment in 49 states and the District of Columbia of legislation that removes common law impediments to the long-term validity of conservation easements (the “easement enabling statutes”);8 and a variety of generous federal and state tax incentives offered to landowners who donate conservation easements.9 In addition, conservation easement sale and donation transactions are popular with landowners because they are voluntary and the terms of an easement can be tailored to the specific characteristics of the encumbered land and the specific conservation purposes of the easement.

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