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Conservation Defense Fund

Law Firms Help the Alliance with Conservation Defense

Ten national law firms have agreed to provide the Alliance with pro bono legal services for research and precedent-setting cases on emerging conservation issues of national importance.  Their donated time –up to 300 hours each– is critical piece in the start-up of the Conservation Defense Fund, established by the Alliance and funded with $500,000 by two generous and far-sighted donors.

The Fund is not a loan or grant program for land trusts, and is not a replacement for individual land trusts maintaining an endowment, reserve or legal defense fund. The Fund is one component of the Alliance's multilayered approach to conservation defense. We intend for the Fund to continue indefinitely as long it is necessary. The Alliance plans to solicit additional contributions to the Fund, based on expenditures over time.

The Alliance will look broadly at important conservation defense issues in which the Fund could have an active role, and then analyze each challenge or opportunity on a case-by-case basis, applying carefully crafted criteria.  The Alliance will also consider whether to intervene in a case on the side of a regulator, if a conservation entity has egregiously violated the law or ethical standards and the Alliance wishes to publicly support the regulatory consequences of failing to act in the public interest.

The Fund may be used to support outside costs directly related to legal defense, such as research, attorney and expert fees, court fees, briefs and other filings, communications, intervention in litigation and related out-of-pocket expenses.  When necessary, the Alliance may decide to file an amicus curiae brief ("friend of the court") or intervene to represent the public interest, if the case meets the Alliance’s litigation selection criteria. The Fund is designed to be an additional tool for the conservation community in significant situations, where creating strong case law is essential to a large portion of the community.


Three broad criteria will be used to evaluate possible cases for support by the Fund:  1) significance of the case; 2) merits of the case; and 3) practical considerations.  Within each category, the Alliance has specific criteria to guide participation.

For example, the Alliance will evaluate whether the case could seriously or permanently impair the conservation work of all land trusts or the viability of all conservation easements as a legal conservation tool, in the event of an unfavorable decision. The likely costs and anticipated length of litigation and appeals is another consideration. The Alliance will also evaluate whether success in the case can be sustained in subsequent legal proceedings in other jurisdictions.

The Alliance will evaluate each request and weigh the relative merits of each criterion prior to deciding to intervene. The Alliance will also consult with knowledgeable practitioners and experts.  However, the ultimate decision about participating in a specific case will rest with the Alliance staff and board.

For more information, call or write Leslie Ratley-Beach at 802-262-6051 or e-mail

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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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