Stewardship of lands protected through conservation easements
As the holder of a conservation easement on your property, a land trust is obligated to monitor the easement annually to ensure that conservation values of the land are being preserved and to determine if the terms and conditions of the easement are being upheld.
To fulfill its stewardship obligations, LPLC established a stewardship endowment fund to support its stewardship activities. While stewardship includes monitoring and record keeping, it also fosters relationships with landowners whose properties are encumbered by a conservation easement.
Elements of stewardship include:
- annual monitoring of protected properties, which includes walking the land and documenting current conditions
- documenting changes to properties periodically
- tracking changes in ownership
- providing easement education to new landowners
- reviewing and processing requests for conditioned activities
- maintaining property records
- serving as a resource for landowners regarding conservation easement management issues
- correcting violations through voluntary compliance or, if necessary, legal proceedings.
Although we are the stewards of the easement, the landowner continues to be the steward of their land. Day-to-day management of the property is still the landowner’s responsibility. LPLC may advise landowners on aspects of easement management, but the landowner is ultimately responsible for decisions regarding their property and its use.
Federal tax law requires that organizations holding conservation easements maintain their commitment to protect the conservation purposes of the donation and have the resources to enforce the restrictions. To meet this obligation, a land trust assumes responsibility for enforcing the terms of each easement it holds.
Prior to acquiring an easement from a landowner, LPLC will seek to obtain a donation from the landowner for stewardship to assist LPLC with meeting its stewardship obligations. A stewardship donation is a suggested charitable donation and is not a prerequisite for acceptance of the donation of a conservation easement. In some cases, LPLC may raise the stewardship donation through private donations rather than request it from the easement donor. If LPLC and the landowner are unable to raise sufficient funds to fulfill LPLC’s stewardship responsibility, LPLC may not be able to accept the easement.
LPLC’s stewardship endowment fund
LPLC established a stewardship fund to ensure its ability to fulfill its stewardship obligations in perpetuity. Specifically, the stewardship fund:
- generates investment income to cover annual stewardship and monitoring expenses
- builds our legal defense capabilities in the event easement conditions are violated and the landowner does not remedy the violations once they are discovered
Landowners are the primary source of the donations used to build the stewardship fund. The fund is supplemented by a portion of the donations LPLC raises annually and any donations specifically designated for stewardship by donors.
Stewardship donations are invested to protect them from inflation, as well as to provide a small annual return to help fund stewardship activities. The principal is kept intact to be used in the event an easement needs to be defended in the future.