Safety Net for Land Trusts
RJ Taylor, Conservation Director for the Connemara Conservancy Foundation advises all land trusts to “cover your butt”. That is what led the Foundation to commit to the proposed Conservation Defense Insurance Program. Without a Conservation Defense Insurance Program, they feel that their limited funds could be easily threatened by potential lawsuits. “No one would drive a car without auto insurance or own a home without casualty insurance. So who would hold conservation easements without adequate coverage from multiple risks?” asks RJ.
The Foundation currently has 5 conservation subdivisions within its portfolio. “Recognizing the number of landowners each of these projects represents a potential risk considering the issues of adjacent landowners around the subdivisions in a large suburban setting so it is prudent to have some financial protection for our stewardship endowments. These Conservation Subdivisions take much more of my time to manage than our single-landowner tracts, and have many other liability issues that could arise as compared to more rural easements,” according to RJ.
Six other Texas land trusts agree that the proposed conservation defense insurance program is a useful safety net for their existing defense reserves and to protect their portfolios and program viability.
Janae’ Reneaud, Executive Director of the Guadalupe Blanco River Trust feels lucky that they have not had a law suit yet. “But we know over time there is bound to be a conflict and we want to be prepared. The Conservation Defense Program can provide skills, support and funding that we might not be in a position to provide. The Trust has been very successful at acquiring a stewardship donation from landowners when they place a conservation easement on their land. Though the reality is if, or when, we have to fight a lawsuit it will likely exceed our funds. It is comforting to know that there is a safety net in place that has finances to assist and in addition provide experienced staff and support.”
In order for land trusts in America to be assured that they can fulfill their missions and responsibilities to their land owner partners, says George Cofer, Executive Director of Hill Country Conservancy, “they must have the resources to enforce and defend their conservation easements. Most land trusts need help to cover the potentially exorbitant expenses if litigation becomes necessary and so pooling their resources through the proposed Conservation Defense Insurance Program is the way to go.”
Dalmara Bayne, Executive Director of Native Prairies Association of Texas says that “Land Trusts have a fiduciary responsibility to both landowners and the public to plan for perpetuity; this includes being able to legally defend an easement. We have done a lot to prepare for this but having a backstop so we can sleep at night really helps.”
Mark Steinbach, Executive Director, Texas Land Conservancy says that “As the holder of some of the oldest conservation easements in Texas, we are now working with 2nd, 3rd, and in some cases 4th successor landowners. It is now more evident than ever that the Conservation Defense Insurance program will be paramount to providing security as we protect these properties in perpetuity.”