If a land trust intends to amend a grant of conservation easement, implementation of the changes requires careful planning and drafting. The consequences of a poor execution range from missed opportunities to improve easement stewardship to inadvertent elimination of conservation protections.
A review of Pennsylvania judicial decisions reveals that conservation easement holders and the conservation values they uphold prevail when a dispute leads to litigation. Courts respect the text of easement documents and their conservation purposes. This guide reviews eleven cases where the interpretation or enforcement of a conservation easement was at the center of litigation.
The holder of a conservation easement must monitor the eased property to confirm compliance with conservation restrictions and, when necessary, take action to uphold the conservation objectives of the easement. These and other stewardship activities result in costs, year in and year out, to the holder.
Conservation easements are intended to last—to ensure protection of important resources, no matter people’s whims—through the decades and centuries. However, the world changes and so do understandings of how best to meet conservation objectives. A land trust must be prepared to address these changes in order to ensure that its conservation work is effective while assuring its supporters and the public that it is a reliable agent of conservation. This resources serves as both a guide to responsible decision-making and a model policy for easement amendment.
A conservation easement may have one or more holders responsible for upholding the easement’s conservation objectives. It may have a beneficiary, an entity with some rights to manage the easement in furtherance of the conservation objectives but no responsibility to do so. It may also provide a contingency plan to replace a holder in the event the holder cannot or will not perform its duties. Effective long-term easement management requires that when more than one entity shares easement management rights, the relationship between the entities must be carefully delineated.
Organizing essential documents in a secure, accessible system is a fundamental part of conservation easement stewardship. This guide describes the systems of 14 land trusts.
Who can assert claims and be heard in Pennsylvania’s courts if a dispute heats up over the management of a conservation easement?