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Insurance Pooling Provides Solution to Legal Challenges

Across America conservation easements and land owned by land trusts are increasingly under attack.

Laura Curliss offers a unique insight into the benefits of insurance pooling among a group as a way to share the expenses of defense and enforcement. As a board member of Clinton County Open Lands, Inc., Curliss embraces the responsibility to steward conservation easements in perpetuity.  As a board member of Miami Valley Risk Management Association, she believes insurance pooling is the best solution to the legal challenges facing land trusts.

Curliss believes an insurance pool for the land trust community will better the conservation community in three distinct ways by providing:

  • Legal defense for land trusts of all sizes, locations, and budgets
  • National sharing of easement language and defense strategies
  • Increased conservation easement and fee land management expertise

The proposed Conservation Defense Insurance program would help land trusts to prevent and mitigate risks. Since the program is the first of its kind, a major challenge to the program is risk management.

“Clear easement language that addresses known risks is one key to reducing interpretation risks or violations,” stated Curliss.  “A pool helps to concentrate claims management and legal expertise regionally and, in this case, nationally.  This will lead to more predictability in claims handling and outcomes and to strengthened easement language.  As land trusts use best practices in risk management and incorporate more enforceable language into their easements, legal decisions or outcomes should be favorable to the conservation community,” she said.

As the number of land trusts committed to the insurance pool increases, Curliss predicts the number of knowledgeable lawyers available to defend their cases will increase too.

“A good claims management team is invaluable”, said Curliss. “Most cases will not go to court. Your team can help you to avoid unnecessary litigation and resolve a case before it heads to court, if that is the best thing to do for conservation permanence.”

One key to risk management is regular review of best practices.  “Pools usually offer targeted training to their members to address common risks.  The Land Trust Alliance does this now, but pooling will bring another level of organization and communication.  Best practices information will be quickly disseminated based on claims management experience.” Curliss said.  “Finally and most importantly, there is strength in numbers.  Land trusts will succeed in the awesome task of perpetual stewardship by working together on conservation easement defense.”

A single adverse decision from a legal case could endanger the permanence of thousands of easements. And without action now, the land trust community risks losing many of the gains made in recent years. To date, more than 270 land trusts from 46 states have committed over 88% (or 10,611) of the necessary 12,000 conservation easements and fee owned parcels to make the proposed Conservation Defense Insurance program feasible.  If land trusts commit 100% of the needed conservation interest, then the Alliance board can consider moving to the next step of raising $4 million in capital to start the program.

Note: Your commitment is essential in order for the Alliance board to vote to proceed to the next step. Your one-time registration fee now would be used for start-up costs if the program starts.  If not, the Alliance will return it in full. One of the next steps after enough land trusts commit to the program is to create a $4 million dollar endowment for the program.  Land trusts who sign up for the program will NOT be asked to contribute to that fund, although all contributions are welcome. The Alliance proposes to raise the $4 million in capital from foundations and individual major donors. The Alliance welcomes suggestions and advice from land trusts about who might be interested in contributing to that fund.

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Support from land trusts

Christian Freitag, attorney-at-law and executive director at Sycamore Land Trust (IN), says "I view Conservation Defense Insurance as another step the land trust community is taking to keep our promises. We claim that we will help people protect their land in perpetuity. With this program, the public can be more confident than ever that we take that commitment seriously."

 

Greg Gamble, executive director at Ojai Valley Land Conservancy (CA), says that "this is one of the most helpful things that the Land Trust Alliance could attempt for its members, and I have greatly appreciated the professional, thoughtful, fair and inclusive process that you have led."

 

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