Saturday, May 29, 2010
Local and regional private land trusts are among the most important and most numerous conservation actors in contemporary America, and conservation easements are perhaps the key land conservation tools used by these trusts. In recent decades, privately held conservation easements and local and regional private land trusts have grown at a rapid and increasing rate, and the total acreage protected by privately held conservation easements is now larger than some states. The early growth of privately held conservation easements met widespread approval, but more recently, contemporary conservation easement practice has attracted many critics, based in part on well-publicized national scandals involving fraudulent donations of conservation easements for tax purposes and in part on more general concerns about the potential inefficiency of these easements. To date, however, legal scholars have not adequately tested or examined these concerns against the details of contemporary conservation easement practice. This Article addresses this gap in the current debate by examining various criticisms and proposals for reform of current conservation easement practice in light of a detailed survey of conservation easements held by local and regional land trusts in Massachusetts. More specifically, the Article provides important detail on contemporary conservation easement practice, considers the interaction between contemporary practice and the abstract concerns raised in the academic debate, and offers some suggestions for reform and further study.