When landowners grant a conservation easement to a land trust, they empower the land trust to ensure that conservation is achieved. The land trust’s exercise of this power – monitoring, reviews and enforcement actions – requires money.
While much can be done with volunteers and overworked staff, particularly in a land trust’s early years, one can’t responsibly assume that volunteers or underpaid staff will always be at hand to monitor properties or appropriately manage easement violations in the decades and centuries to come. For an easement to stand the test of time, a land trust needs money.
Landowners continue to be the most reliable source of money for easement stewardship, but a land trust’s financial reliance on landowners presents a conundrum: A stewardship contribution of sufficient size to adequately cover long-term stewardship costs is not affordable for many prospective donors. However, bringing the contribution down to an affordable level leaves a funding shortfall, impairing the land trust’s ability to exercise its stewardship powers in the long run.
The key to achieving affordability for the landowners and adequacy for the land trust is to spread payments in support of stewardship over time. Rather than asking landowners to make a single up-front contribution, land trusts can present landowners with a menu of options, some that place all or a portion of the funding obligation on future owners of the land. Rather than increasing the burden on the landowners, the land trust provides a means for making stewardship both affordable and non-threatening while ensuring that there will be money adequate to meet stewardship needs in perpetuity.
The Pennsylvania Land Trust Association has developed a suite of materials to assist land trusts in offering a menu of options to landowners and ensuring that they fully fund their stewardship needs. The materials are available to view and download at ConservationTools.org:
- An Introduction to Stewardship Funding Arrangements: Alternatives for Landowners to Help Holders Meet Conservation Easement Obligations, a 16-page guide.
- Legal Considerations for Stewardship Funding Arrangements: Binding Present and Future Landowners to Present Promises, a 19-page guide.
- Model Stewardship Funding Covenant and Commentary, which offers ten basic ways to structure stewardship funding arrangements so as to respect landowners while ensuring that the land trust will have the financial resources it needs for stewardship in perpetuity.
- Stewardship Funding Arrangements trifold brochure. This mock-up of a brochure illustrates how a land trust might communicate with owners concerning the need and options to fund the land trust’s easement stewardship obligations.
Conservation is about how we treat the land through the ages. A conservation easement means little if we don’t create the vehicles to ensure the financial means to monitor, review, enforce and otherwise meet stewardship obligations over time. Stewardship Funding Arrangements provide these vehicles.