Land conservation transactions can often be complicated, involving multiple parties, financing mechanisms, fundraising and tax structures. We celebrate closing the conservation transaction as the culmination of substantial work. From the land conservation perspective, however, closing the transaction is really just the beginning.
What matters next is to ensure that the conservation values that formed the basis for the transaction are maintained. Indeed, protecting the conservation values of the lands CLT acquires an interest in is some of our most important work. After all, the conservation objective is met only through the continued protection of the land, the thing that allows us to put up signs that read “This Land is Conserved Forever.”
Various elements go in to the stewardship effort. At the outset it is important to establish a clear baseline of expectations. What are the property’s characteristics and conservation values? What uses or activities are to be permitted (and restricted) on the conserved land? Who has rights to enforce the conservation provisions? This baseline is accomplished primarily through a Baseline Documentation Report (BDR) that includes photos of the property and other site-specific characteristics.
Next, CLT monitors its conservation easements in detail on an annual basis. Land owners are encouraged to accompany the CLT representative for the site visit. Site visits require a walk around the property with the BDR to compare existing conditions to those reflected in the BDR and, where possible, discussion with the landowner concerning any changed circumstances. The site visit is then documented on an established monitoring report, and the landowner is advised in writing as to the result of the monitoring effort.
If the Stewardship monitoring indicates that the conserved land is not being used consistently with the terms of the conservation easement, then CLT’s obligation as a steward of the land is to take necessary follow up measures, including legal action, if necessary, to compel compliance.