Basics of Environmental Easements

Are all environmental easements the same?

No. Easements are flexible tools for landowners who wish to conserve their land. The easement contract is a negotiated agreement between the landowner and the proposed easement holder depending on the conservation values that they want to protect. Easements confer upon their holder the legal responsibility of ensuring that the restrictions are upheld, while the landowner maintains the rights to use, sell, and bequeath the property subject to the terms of the easement. Each easement is individually tailored to meet a landowner’s needs while at the same time meeting the conservation objective.

If I convey an easement, does that mean the land is open to the public?

No. Unless you specify that you want this, environmental easements generate public benefits by preserving open space, protecting ecosystem services such as clean water, air, wetlands, carbon sinks and biodiversity, and protecting habitats. These public benefits of conservation easements are everlasting.

Is an easement legally binding?

Yes. An environmental easement is legally binding, whether the property is sold or passed on to heirs, the easement is registered against the title. Should any of the parties contravene the agreement, there are means of addressing the problem through mediation or other channels.

Can you provide an example?

Consider land between two protected areas, perhaps a privately owned property between two National Parks, onto which animals from both Parks are continually straying, and which itself still remains ideal wildlife habitat. The landowner does not want to sell the land, but wants to protect the land in perpetuity. The landowner works with a conservation organization that is willing to fund the purchase of an easement for a value that is determined by an independent valuer. Not only has the landowners realized money from the grant of the easement, but the terms of the easement contain specific provisions allowing him to continue to reside on the land, use it for certain purposes and enjoy the fact that the land is protected for future generations. The ownership of the land remains with the landowner.

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