Land conservation, conservation easement statutes
The most dynamic component of the conservation movement in the United States for the past three decades has been land conservation transactions. In the United States, land conservation organizations have protected roughly 40 million acres of land through transactions. Most of these acres have been protected using conservation easements. Climate change threatens the vast conservation edifice created by land conservation transactions. The tools of land conservation transactions are, traditionally, stationary. Climate change means that the resources that land conservation transactions were intended to protect may no longer remain on the land protected. Options to purchase conservation easements (OPCEs) have long played a modest but important role in conservation law practice. In the world climate change is creating, with its substantial uncertainties and shifting windows of opportunity, OPCEs can serve more complicated and strategic purposes. The ability of OPCEs to serve important roles in protecting land in the context of uncertainty would be significantly increased if state legislatures amend current conservation easement statutes to (1) specifically recognize OPCEs, (2) immunize OPCEs from a range of potential common law challenges, (3) guarantee the durability and transferability of OPCEs, and (4) integrate OPCEs into the burgeoning body of conservation easement law. These statutory amendments would do for OPCEs what conservation easement statutes have done for conservation easements: transform them into an essential multi-purpose tool for conservation in a changing world.
40 Harvard Environmental Law Review 1 (2016)