In the United States, conservation easement and acquisition models are a gold standard for protecting nature on private land. Conservation easements are legally binding agreements that permanently restrict land use for conservation, historic preservation, agricultural production, or forest management. Their key benefit is that while they limit the use of a parcel of land, they still allow land to be kept under private ownership and for landowners to retain the rights to hold, sell, or work on their land.
Other well-established land conservation strategies include the purchase, acquisition, trade, and gift of land. However, conservation easements have long been the primary tool for land and resource conservation because of the level of protection and flexibility they provide. As such, they are extremely effective and widely employed, with over 27 million acres in the United States protected by such legal instruments1. However, conservation easements and acquisitions may not always match owners’ or managers’ needs, challenges or desires.
Furthermore, conservation does not end at the point of protection. Accomplishing land protection often opens the door to further conservation needs that require funding. While easements remain a phenomenal tool, the intense pace and scale of land conversion, natural resource degradation, and community interest means that conservation professionals increasingly need a broader set of strategies at their disposal.
This article explores some diverse and creative land conservation tools beyond traditional easements and acquisitions. These strategies are best understood in relation to the goals of a landowner or land manager, which may include securing temporary protection, generating income from the land, reducing cost, or improving management practices. Some of these tools are easier than others, and some may solve a timing or risk management challenge without achieving permanent land protection. However, all offer an opportunity for practitioners to start thinking about how more land conservation can be achieved beyond traditional easements.
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