Guidebook helps land trusts navigate problem easements

Like many other land trusts, the New Jersey Conservation Foundation (NJCF) has its share of problem easements. One of six land trusts that participated in the Easement Revitalization Initiative, NJCF allowed Solid Ground’s national conservation team to rummage around through the details of several troubled easements that the organization held, in order to better understand the issues and possible solutions.

Sponsored by Open Space Institute (OSI), the Easement Revitalization Initiative brought together legal analysis and practical perspectives from land trust practitioners to understand the types of easement problems that groups encounter, and potential ways to resolve or manage them. The fourteen-month process resulted in the Easement Revitalization Guidebook, which provides a pathway for land trusts to work through problem easements.

The Guidebook  provides a way for groups to categorize troubled easements. For example, is the problem vague or conflicting language? Is it missing documentation in the file? Is it compromised conservation value? The nature of the problem suggests different solutions.

NJCF executive director Michele Byers admits that the process can be overwhelming. But, she says, it’s also clarifying: “After going through the easement revitalization process, we realized that extinguishment is off the table. Even if it looks like common sense it would have such a large negative impact to the state.”

The bottom line, according to Michele, is that she’s “relieved that we were not the only ones without answers to everything about our problem easements. We know we can be creative with solutions.”

Indeed! The Guidebook  encourages land trusts to align clear, disciplined conservation with creative, engaging landowner relationships to make problems easements better – and the conservation community just a little bit stronger.

– Bill Long, Helena, MT