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Conservation Defense Insurance can be a Land Trust Safety Net

“The board of The Land Conservancy of Hamilton County, Ohio (LCHC) has thoroughly reviewed the Alliance’s materials, and unanimously supports the proposed conservation defense program,” says Board Member Clare Johnson.  “We have never had a threat to one of our conservation easements since our founding in 1999.  The insurance will protect us from future, unforeseeable threats that would require expensive legal fees.  Our stewardship fund could be quickly depleted in a major case. The insurance program would be a great safety net in addition to our existing reserves."

Working with land trusts, partners and experts across the country, the Alliance has developed a creative solution to our collective defense challenges: a conservation defense insurance program that would be owned and managed by the land trust community.  To be feasible, land trusts need to commit to cover at least 12,000 conservation easements or fee-land parcels.   The link to the Terms and Conditions and the Commitment Letter are at (www.lta.org/conservationdefense) for your land trust to review and consider.

Every land trust wants their easements to stand the test of time, and we all know that federal law requires us to have sufficient resources to defend them. There is no need to face this challenge alone when we will all be stronger by standing together. This new insurance program is the most cost-effective way for land trusts to fulfill their legal obligations and ensure the permanence of their conservation work.

Many land trusts may be reluctant to take on new costs in the midst of this recession, so the Alliance will not begin the program until after the economy improves in 2012 or 2013 provided that the Alliance board votes to implement the program. But we need commitments now so that we can begin raising the funds required to capitalize the program.

In addition to the insurance program, the Alliance has a new Conservation Defense Center which includes a legal defense fund, pro bono litigation assistance, a clearinghouse, an attorney locator and prevention services. If you know of a legal challenge in your state, please call or write Leslie Ratley Beach at (802) 262-6051 or lrbeach@lta.org.  She can help provide general advice, technical assistance, connection to resources, knowledge of past cases and, in some cases, financial backing.

We are all in this together.  With 1,700 land trusts acting collectively, our defenses can be formidable.  Frosty Roe, Board President Land Trust of the Upper Arkansas (Colorado) says that his board has long been interested in this concept.  “The 'safety in numbers' aspect would benefit small land trusts like ours.  Building a strong defense fund one easement at a time with small contributions will take forever. One enforcement action could drain the reserves we have long before the issue would be settled. The costs involved with putting a property into conservation easement are proving to be much higher than the average landowner can afford alone.  The proposed insurance program may well open doors for the less affluent to protect their land permanently.”

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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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