Conservation Easements: Read the fine print before you sign

W.R. McAfee, Sr.

A basic Constitutional tenet of private property ownership in America is the landowner’s right to determine the use and disposition of his or her land.   This ownership gives the property owner the right to occupy, use, lease, sell, develop, and deny public access to his or her land.  
 
Today, landowners can lose these rights simply by signing a ‘standard’ or ‘model’ conservation easement (CE) offered by ‘nonprofit-environmental-friendly’ land trusts, NGO environmental organizations, or government agencies unless the easement has been worded to protect the landowner’s rights.

The growing number of land trusts

In the early 1950s, there were some 50 land trusts in the U.S.  Today, there are more than 1,700.  Among the largest are the:
  • Nature Conservancy (TNC),
  • American Farmland Trust (AFT),
  • Conservation Fund, and
  • Trust for Public Land. 


Land trusts exist to remove private property from production

They do this by acquiring ranch, farm, forest, or other private land either through donation, purchase, or by acquiring CEs to property as well as water.  They act as unofficial arms of government agencies—third party intermediaries or ‘land agents’—and routinely flip (sell) donated as well as purchased land and CEs to these government agencies.  When they do, they’re paid with tax dollars which, in turn, are used to purchase more private property.  

In 1994, the Government Accounting Office reported approximately 61 percent of the Trust for Public Land’s operating revenue was gained from the sale of donated land. 

In 2001, the U.S. Forest Service and TNC signed a five-year ‘memorandum of understanding’ to ‘protect the land’ from things like ‘invasive species’ which, according to some eastern congressmen, includes cattle that graze federal land even though their owners pay the government a per unit (head) fee to graze it.  



That same year, government officials at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, made available to the TNC several million dollars to acquire water rights from private property owners around the base through the use of conservation easements.

Primary recipients of land trust acquisitions are the Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service, and the U.S. Forest Service.  

Government already owns almost half the land in America.

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