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Special Issues for Large Land Trusts

Conservation Defense Insurance: Special Issues for Large Land Trusts

As a land trust with a large number of easements or fee land, and a sizable endowment, you may have decided that you do not need conservation defense insurance.  However, your land trust may want to consider some of the financial and legal benefits of the program that may not be immediately apparent. 

  • Cover  catastrophic legal costs running as much as $250,000 to $1 million
  • Mitigate effects of increased risk of litigation, increased costs and simultaneous challenges 
  • Avoid depleting your reserves and give your land trust increased financial security
  • Redirect your financial resources to more critical needs
  • Access a team of attorneys that specialize in conservation litigation strategies
  • Minimize the disruption of land trust activities caused by major litigation

Conservation defense insurance will only work if the large land trusts participate. We all need to stand together to defend conservation easements as a legal tool, protect fee land owned and to create favorable case law.  Courts are creating precedents as I write this.  To do this, we need written commitments to insure at least 12,000 easements and fee parcels to start the program.  So far, land trusts have committed more than 50% of the numbers needed.  Join your peers in leading the conservation community.


A Few Program Highlights

Program Goals

  • Protect conservation permanence, create favorable case law, avoid unfavorable case law
  • Encourage practices that will help to prevent violations and unnecessary litigation
  • Provide early free assistance with challenges to those that need it most


Special Large Land Trust Products

  • Higher Aggregate Limits of $750,000 or $1 million
  • $38.78 per conservation interest per year with High Deductible Option


Total Available Discounts for Large Land Trusts

  • If accredited, total discount with volume discount is $15 off each premium
  • If not accredited, total discount with volume discount is $8 off each premium


Claims Management

  • Guaranteed choice of counsel and case management by the land trust


Legal Structure

  • Land trusts and the Alliance own and operate the entity with one vote each



  • For all land trusts for both enforcement and defense which is not commercially available
  • Includes mediation, negotiation and court fees
  • Accreditation is not required


Some Examples of Legal Challenges


  • A Michigan land trust timber dispute with an original landowner cost that land trust more than $35,000 and 18 months of time.  The trial judge forced a settlement.



  • Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests experienced three simultaneous cases.  The most costly was a neighbor challenging easement enforcement that cost in excess of $92,000.
  • French & Pickering Creek Conservation Trust (PA) enforced removal of a prohibited house cost them more than $500,000 and took them 12 years to prevail.
  • Western New York Land Conservancy fee preserve multiple trespass case cost them more than $75,000. The neighbor lost one appeal but may pursue the case to higher courts.



  • Mesa Land Trust (CO) was hit with 3 cases after 27 years without any significant violations or legal challenges.  The three cases cost more than $150,000 over two years.
  • Nevada County Land Trust (CA) spent $75,000 defending against a neighbor demand to use ancient roads on the conserved property to serve an adjacent development.
  • Colorado Open Lands staff defended against a neighbor trail constructed on conserved land where it was not permitted.  Its attorney waived the $125,000 in legal fees.
  • Sonoma Land Trust (CA) needed 3 years to settle a successor owner violation which cost them $300,000 and required filing suit and taking depositions.
  • Center for Natural Lands Management (CA) Form 8283 dispute cost them $1,000,000.


Comments from Land Trust Leaders

“This is a no-brainer.  Having experienced the expensive, unpredictable costs of litigation, I feel defense insurance is an essential safety net for prudent land trusts.”  Dan Pike, President, Colorado Open Lands [Portfolio of 220 conservation easements]

“Dutchess Land Conservancy definitely believes it’s the way to go. I hope enough others sign on to the conservation defense insurance program to make it feasible.”  Becky Thornton, President, Dutchess Land Conservancy (N Y) [Portfolio of 350 conservation easements]

“Our Board felt that the participation in the proposed conservation defense insurance program demonstrates how critically important is it to ensure that all organizations can meet our collective legal obligations.  The board saw the investment for the “cause” as an important benefit perhaps more so than any direct assistance we may receive from the program. Jeffery E. Swinehart, Deputy Director, Lancaster Farmland Trust (PA)  [Portfolio of 331 conservation easements]


Learn More

The detailed terms and conditions and commitment letter and additional background information are available at  Leslie Ratley-Beach is available to discuss your questions.  Please call or write her at 802-262-6051 or   Any of the leaders from the large land trusts that have already committed are also happy to talk with your board about their reasons for committing.  Ask Leslie for their names and contact information.


Last revised November 18, 2009

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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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