In perpetuity, or not? | VTDigger

In perpetuity, or not?

A view of Mettowee Valley fields and surrounding hills from a hillside vantage point in Rupert. Photo by Tom Slayton

A view of Mettowee Valley fields and surrounding hills from a hillside vantage point in Rupert. Photo by Tom Slayton

UPDATE: On Friday, the Vermont Land Trust issued a statement on its website retracting support of S.119 in its current form.

Vermont has one of the most extensive private land conservation efforts in the country. Over the past 30 years, the Vermont Land Trust, community land trusts and The Nature Conservancy have preserved hundreds of thousands of acres in Vermont.

The cornerstone of the land conservation movement has been the notion that property — working forests, farms and ecologically important lands — would remain undeveloped in perpetuity.

One of the tools used to conserve parcels is a legally binding land covenant known as a conservation easement. An easement eliminates a landowner’s interest in “development rights.” Those rights, which have monetary value, are transferred to a land trust that holds the easements in perpetuity.

About 10 percent of Vermont’s land is protected under conservation easements at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funds, donations, state grants and forgone income tax revenues.

Several conservation groups are questioning whether the word “perpetuity” should apply to all conservation easements. Prominent Vermont conservationists, led by Darby Bradley, the former longtime director of the Vermont Land Trust, are now arguing that in certain instances limited development should be allowed.

Darby Bradley, former director of the Vermont Land Trust.  Courtesy photo

Darby Bradley, former director of the Vermont Land Trust. Courtesy photo

Bradley and The Nature Conservancy are asking the House Judiciary Committee to pass S.119, a bill that would allow easement holders — such as the trust and the conservancy — to make minor changes to the agreements without seeking the approval of a judge.

The legislation, however, also includes a provision that would give an easement-holder, typically a land trust, the ability to make major changes to the development rights as long as a special panel approves.

Others who have been active in conservation efforts — including former Gov. Howard Dean, the head of the Upper Valley Land Trust and a professor at the Vermont Law School — believe S.119 could give easement holders, including the land trust, the ability to significantly change land protections. Critics say the “Category 3” provision in S.119 would allow a land trust to revoke easements, eliminate the obligation to protect land and effectively allow development on property that was legally bound to be preserved.

“Category 3” also undermines the expectation among donors that “forever” means “forever,” according to John Echeverria, a Vermont Law School professor and former director of the environmental law and policy institute at the Georgetown Law School.

Legal experts, including Echeverria, say the IRS has no authority to challenge changes to easements that have been purchased.

John Echeverria, Vermont Law School professor. Courtesy photo

John Echeverria, Vermont Law School professor. Courtesy photo

But for easements that have been donated, Echeverria says the state legislative proposal creates a slippery slope. Under a provision of the bill, conservation groups could renege on promises made to donors who have taken tax deductions for the value of the easements. Changes to donated easements could violate the spirit of the charitable trust doctrine, he said, and leave donors and trusts vulnerable to IRS audits of property no longer protected in perpetuity.

“This legislation basically says the land trust and the landowner can go to a board or hold their own friendly proceeding and say, ‘well we think it’s best for Vermont if we move the easement,’” Echeverria says. “I think the most fundamental policy problem with that is that it breaks the promises that have been made to hundreds if not thousands of landowners here in Vermont who have made conservation donations on the clear understanding that their land — not some other land — will be subject to permanent protection.”

Roughly 30 percent of the easements in Vermont have been donated to conservancy organizations.

The amendment process, Echeverria said, could allow trusts to “swap” easements, eliminate protections and change house locations. He says the legislation violates the charitable trust doctrine, established under state law, and undermines the public’s perception of a trust’s obligation to keep land perpetually free of development. Changing the terms of an easement on donated land is a partial extinguishment under the law that should be amended by the courts under federal law, in Echeverria’s view.

In a hypothetical scenario, Echeverria says the easement for a Taylor Valley Conservation Area in Strafford could be passed into the hands of an investment group that wants to build 25 rural estate properties. In theory, he says the group could go to conservancy and offer to buy easements for land along the Connecticut River, which has a higher conservation value in exchange for the right to develop the Strafford conservation area.

Gil Livingston, the executive director of the Vermont Land Trust, says Echeverria’s example is extreme.

“When he speaks to the Vermont Land Trust erasing conservation easements and swapping conservation easements elsewhere — that hasn’t happened in Vermont,” Livingston said. “We are not going to sell conservation easements. The first time we do something like that is the last time we receive a donation. Our goal is to create and maintain a trusting relationship with each landowner. We work with them to have faith that we’ll honor commitments we’ve made.”

Bradley and Livingston, the current director of the Vermont Land Trust, say the working landscape evolves over time and they don’t want to “shackle” farmers. There are currently no explicit state guidelines for amending easements. Bradley and Livingston both support the adoption of S.119, because it would create a process and criteria for changes to covenants for conserved land.

“Land uses and the context in which conservation easements exist change over time,” Livingston said. “Easements can be amended under current law, but there is no process, no explicit criteria, no test to be applied when organizations are considering an amendment. Nor is there public review or public engagement.”

Echeverria says there is extensive legal precedent on the steps charities must take to carry out donor intent. “The problem is not that there are no criteria, but that the Vermont Land Trust would like to have the Legislature erase the current criteria, so the trust can proceed without regard to donor intent,” he said.

In an email, Dean, who was governor of Vermont from 1991 to 2003, wrote that he respects Gil Livingston and the Vermont Land Trust, “but I am alarmed by the idea.” Dean made land conservation a signature part of his legacy. (He was involved in the preservation of the former Champion Lands forestland in Essex County among other areas.)

“There is a real chance that the passage of this bill could undo decades of significant progress in keeping Vermont sustainable,” Dean said in an email. “Time to slow this train down so the public can learn more before we alter Vermont for the worse forever.”

Why create an easement panel?

Bradley, the much-revered former head of the Vermont Land Trust, had an “epiphany” in 2007. He began to question whether easements should never be changed. There are practical reasons to amend the legal covenants, he said, that are beneficial to the public good.

Bradley began to collect examples of easement changes that do little harm and provide a public benefit. A volunteer fire department in Woodstock needed a half acre to expand, but the department was surrounded by conserved land. The town asked for an amendment and because the change didn’t “materially change” the conservation value of the remaining land, he said, an amendment to allow construction on the parcel served the public good.

When farmers want to put a cellphone antenna on an silo, for example, there is no universal state process for changing an easement to allow that use, Bradley said.

Johnson Farm map

Former game warden Paul Fink of Canaan (pointing) and Monty Montplaisir of Averill examine the map of the Johnson Farm in Canaan, which has been conserved. Photo by Tom Slayton

Bradley points to a land swap at an orchard in Shoreham in which a conservation easement created 20 years ago retained the right to build a second home on the property. Recently, a new owner wanted to conserve that land and exchange the easement restriction for the right to build worker housing on the farm compound.

In rare cases, Bradley said, easements on whole parcels that are of lesser conservation value can be swapped for easements on land that is of higher conservation value, as long as the amendment does not create a financial windfall for the landowner.

Livingston says there is no process for amending easements under the current state law. That is to say there is no criteria, no test, no public review and no public engagement for the amendment process in state statute. Only the Vermont Attorney General as enforcement authority under state law and can challenge amendments if they are contrary to the public interest or violate charitable trust requirements.

As land uses change, Livingston says, easement holders like the Vermont Land Trust need to be able to consider the context in which people are using land for farming and forestry.

The farm building compound, for example, might need to extinguish easements on small parcels in order to add another barn or more housing for workers. Or new restrictions for river protection might need to be added.

Most farmland easements, Livingston says, are not donated. Typically, the land trust purchases the easements because an operating farm is the principal asset for a landowner rarely able to donate the capital value of the easement.

“The theory is, if we want people to contribute to charity, the law has to require the recipient to carry out the donor’s wishes, otherwise the donors stop giving.

John Echeverria


The Vermont Land Trust holds easements on about 1,700 properties. About 700 are held on farms. Vermont has about 2,000 properties in all that have been conserved through easements.

“The statute we’re proposing, S.119 is designed to create a single process for all classes of easements (purchased or donated),” Livingston said.

That process creates a set of criteria under three categories of easement amendment. Under category 1, amendments would include adding or enhancing protections under an easement, the right of first refusal for the easement holder to obtain an ownership stake and merging conservation easements. Category 2 amendments would allow changes to 2 acres to 5 acres under an easement.

Category 3 allows the panel to remove a “protected quality from the easement” or changes to the hierarchy of the easement’s stated purposes or “materially reduces the safeguards afforded to the protected qualities of the easement.

Under any of these circumstances, the easement holder would apply for an amendment review by the Vermont Natural Resources Board and a five-member Easement Amendment Panel to review changes to an easement that removes conservation protections or changes an easement’s stated purpose. The members of the panel would be chosen by the board and the governor.

Applicants for category 3 easement amendments must notify the Vermont Attorney General, the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, the local planning commission, the municipality, and anyone who has an interest in the easement.

Tax implications?

John Echeverria, who has represented the National Audubon Society and American Rivers, says Category 3 amendments could allow for the “taxicab” theory of conservation to take hold, the notion that land trusts could move easements around from “low priority” conservation parcels to “higher priority” land.

“Part of the problem with that is that people (donors) have been told and told by the land trusts, that the land trusts will protect their particular property,” Echeverria said. “That’s the mantra of the land trust community. If you look at the websites of the land trusts in Vermont, they’re very clear that they are encouraging donations by landowners in order to ensure the perpetual protection of their individual property.”

In his view, when a landowner makes a charitable donation for an easement on that particular property, the land trust has a fiduciary duty to protect that land.

The Internal Revenue Code states that if someone is going to donate a conservation easement to a conservation organization, Echeverria says, it has to be a perpetual conservation easement on that particular property. “The reason is, Congress didn’t want to have a situation where people were putting easements on a property, getting tax deductions, then hold property for 30 to 40 years then selling it off at an enormous profit, with a subsidy from the taxpayer,” he said.

Andy Farmer (left) discusses his young wine grape vinestocks with Vermont Land Trust regional representative Donald Campbell. The Land Trust has been instrumental in getting young farmers established in the Mettowee Valley, one of the most scenic and productive farm regions of Vermont. Photo by Tom Slayton

Andy Farmer (left) discusses his young wine grape vinestocks with Vermont Land Trust regional representative Donald Campbell. The Land Trust has been instrumental in getting young farmers established in the Mettowee Valley, one of the most scenic and productive farm regions of Vermont. Photo by Tom Slayton

Under the Charitable Trust Doctrine, Echeverria says, land trusts are obliged to materially maintain the overarching intent of each donated easement (he does not object to “de minimis” or small changes under category 1 and 2 of the proposed state law).

“The theory is, if we want people to contribute to charity, the law has to require the recipient to carry out the donor’s wishes, otherwise the donors stop giving,” he says.

The courts, Echeverria said, have dealt with charitable gifts that fail or become impossible to carry out. Charities that want to change the use of a gift must go to the courts.

Under the proposed state law, land trusts would not have to seek approval for changes to conservation easements from the courts.

Echeverria says S.119 sets up a complicated amendment system that makes it possible to terminate easements or substitute amendments.

“To make matters worse, as I read the legislation, it does not provide for the review process to be conducted by an independent body,” Echeverria says. “In the case of category #3 amendments, this legislation provides for a process that is directed and run by the nonprofit organization that holds the conservation easement.”

Livingston says Echeverria “is operating in the context of national law” and the Internal Revenue Code; Vermont’s Real Estate statutes supercede the jurisdiction of the IRS in his view.

“I think that John is not accurately describing even the national law on the subject,” Livingston said. “There’s a pending national conversation about what the Internal Revenue Code requires with respect to conserved land. John and the authors (of a recent commentary on VTDigger) are in one school. Their perspective is not shared by a majority of land practitioners. We don’t happen to agree.”

A working group that was charged by the Legislature to study the changes (the group included Bradley, other land trust officials and Bob Klein of The Nature Conservancy, among others) found that “a state-sanctioned process such as the one we propose, and where IRS issues are clearly involved,” creates a “pathway to Superior Court.”

Jeanie McIntyre, director of the Upper Valley Land Trust, has been a member of the working group. McIntyre opposes the Category 3 provision of S.119.

“Our organization is not saying this bill is terrible, we’re saying let’s have a bill that takes care of donors,” McIntyre said. “I don’t think people who give conservation easements should be second class citizens. I don’t know why they (VLT and TNC) can’t agree to that. We should be able to find common ground on that.”

McIntyre said the working group’s pursuit of a state-sanctioned amendment process raised questions about whether donors could run into difficulties with the IRS. She contacted an official at the federal agency and came to the conclusion that a change in state statute would not protect donors from federal income tax regulations. Only a court proceeding allowing the “extinguishment” an easement would be acceptable, according to a letter from Karin Gross, an attorney for the IRS.

In a worst case scenario, donors could be audited and required to pay back tax deductions. Land trusts could be audited as well.

Stowe Land Trust deal

In 2004, Johannes Von Trapp bought 513 acres adjacent to 1,100 acres owned by the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe. He let word out that he wanted to put about 50 houses on the adjoining land, which is home of the Stowe Derby and Catamount cross country ski trails.

Before long, the Stowe Land Trust offered to buy a conservation easement on the property.

“Things are going to change over time in ways that no one could have anticipated, and land trusts are going to have to respond to that change.”

Darby Bradley


The pricetag? $1.75 million. The trust didn’t have the money, and embarked on a fundraising drive that despite donations, a $450,000 municipal bond and a $600,000 grant from the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board fell short by $750,000, according to news reports.

Von Trapp offered to trade the value of an easement on 32 acres of the 1,000 acre property for the remaining $750,000. The Stowe Land Trust agreed to the easement exchange, and the land was protected.

Echeverria says the Stowe Land Trust easement swap is illegal and sets a new precedent.

Bradley sees it differently. In a speech to the Vermont Bar Association, Bradley said there was “a vague uneasiness about lifting perpetual restrictions on the 32 acres even though the overall transaction resulted in a clear ‘win’ for the public.”

“Things are going to change over time in ways that no one could have anticipated, and land trusts are going to have to respond to that change,” Bradley wrote. “Changes in technology, in conservation opportunities, in the business of agriculture, in community needs, in plant and animal species, even changes in climate will test the permanence of the conservation choices that we make today. To say ‘no’ to cell antennas on silos, to let 500 acres of high conservation-value land go for the sake of 32 acres of low conservation-value land, to require the Village of South Woodstock to go through an eminent domain process to secure a site for a needed community facility, these positions would be untenable for a land trust that tries to do its work in a “community” context. The question is not whether conservation easements will change, but under what criteria and through what process they will be allowed to change.”

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 5:15 a.m., 6:04 a.m. and 6:34 a.m.

Anne Galloway

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Bob Hawk
2 years 7 months ago

When you write, Anne: “About 10 percent of Vermont’s land is protected under conservation easements at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funds, donations, state grants and forgone taxes.”, what is your source for that information? It is my understanding, for example, that no town taxes are reduced because of a conservation easement.

Joanna Cummings
2 years 7 months ago

VTDigger: articles that are written about the topic of land conservation and include broad statements such as “at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funds, donations, state grants and forgone income tax revenues”, must include the economic benefits of conserving land as well. The price we pay for compromised ecosystem services (the provisioning, regulating, cultural and supporting services that provide us with clean air, clean water, bee pollination, nutrient cycling, decomposition of waste, flood control …) is often higher than development, and always needs to be included in these discussions.

2 years 7 months ago

Right on! This is beginning to feel and sound like another “opportunity” for deals such as the XL Keystone Pipeline and assorted gas lines to be shoved in. We have seen the lack of respect for the land from many Big Business deals. We do not need anymore. Certainly not to pad the wallets of those who don’t live here and are selling their product to the highest bidders elsewhere!

Shoshana Boar
2 years 7 months ago

I agree Pam. The beautiful state of Vermont will become just like any other state. It will be “tamed” and developed to the point of ugliness.

Shoshana Boar
2 years 7 months ago

Once a little bit of development is allowed on one piece of conserved land it will then open the flood gates to repeat this “special case”, until all the land goes up to the highest bid for developing. then there goes the neighborhood…again.

Joanna Cummings
2 years 7 months ago

I would like to clarify my post about including cost of impact to ecosystem services: the intent of my post is to point out that the impact and cost of development on ecosystem services is often higher than the cost of conserving land.

Deirdre Smith
2 years 7 months ago


Darryl Smith
2 years 7 months ago

“Gil Livingston, the executive director of the Vermont Land Trust, says Echeverria’s example is extreme.”
This may very well be an extreme example, but with the VPIRG and the like supporting the leveling our mountain ridges maybe Vermont conservation organizations can no longer be trusted.

Paul Lorenzini
2 years 7 months ago


2 years 7 months ago
Conseved land is appraised at its fair market value. If the easement reduces the fair market value of the land, then the town should (and usually does) reduce the appraisal and the tax is reduced accordingly. Studies have shown that the decreased value of the conserved land is more than made up by the increased values of the surrounding land. Conserved land does not send more kids to school. As a farmer who has sold the development rights to my farm twenty some years ago, I appreciate the need to be able to conform easements to changes is technology and… Read more »
Tom Pelham
2 years 7 months ago
Darby….the best outcome of this controversy would be the weakening of your concentration on the golf course with the result that your current enviable handicap is not so enviable. On the merits, I like Sam Burr’s idea above.There is something very comforting about perpetuity. You know the effort put into the conservation and OPAV of this farm, but now that it’s done and knowing it’s conserved forever for agricultural purposes at best, and conservation purposes at worst, makes it worth the effort. Watching young farmers get a foothold in the business because the land is affordable is very rewarding. Yes… Read more »
Michael Lamere
2 years 7 months ago

The notion that” in perpetuity” means forever, except when it doesn’t, guts the basic premise that has been the driving force behind easements and land conservancy. Land trusts should be facilitators, not some kind of governing body that decides if the owner’s wishes for the care for their land is, or is, not best for society.

Shoshana Boar
2 years 7 months ago

Michael I guess rules were made to be broken or so the saying goes. This is not the first time Vermont has sold out.

Paul Lorenzini
2 years 7 months ago

More rules made, more rules broken, many times as often, except with better results, for those that made the rule.

True or False?

Jamie Carter
2 years 7 months ago

“The pricetag? $1.75 million. The trust didn’t have the money, and embarked on a fundraising drive that despite donations, a $450,000 municipal bond and a $600,000 grant from the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board fell short by $750,000,”

So they received $1.05 Million in a bond and grant plus some other amount from fundraising… they ended up $.75M short … on a $1.75M deal ??? Am I the only one that doesn’t make sense too?

Faeterri Silver
2 years 7 months ago

So, want the cake and eat it too? It’s bad enough that we choose to conserve land to not do anything with but then to allow development is just not ok. It’s all about tax breaks and where this state is going. I say, keep your land yourself and work on the legislature to lower taxes. Such a rich state we live in. I feel for those who are property rich and cash poor.

Grant Reynolds
2 years 7 months ago

The fundamental point of a conservation easement is to keep the land from man-induced changes. The easement may permit change to happen as a result of proper agricultural practices or forest management actions, but if it requires a state of nature, as some do, then there should be no occasion to conform to technological change or any other change. I am very sorry to see VLT, of all people, pushing this. I would expect them to be at the forefront of opposition. How can they be trusted to hold perpetual conservation easements if they want to be land managers?

Paul Lorenzini
2 years 7 months ago

Wherever you took a crap it ended up somewhere. That was a human induced change.
I wish you would stop calling our race “man”.
It pisses off the feminists.
Rightly so.

2 years 7 months ago

Governor Dean says :

“There is a real chance that the passage of this bill could undo decades of significant progress in keeping Vermont sustainable, time to slow this train down so the public can learn more before we alter Vermont for the worse forever.”

Very good advice from Gov. Dean.

This same advice aptly applies to the rush to cover the state with industrial wind and solar projects so the public can learn more before we alter Vermont for the worse for ever.

Kim Fried
2 years 7 months ago

Let’s hope the final version of s.119 makes it illegal to use the words “Land Trust” in the names of theses corporations. Come on Vermont what’s going on, is nothing now sacred???

Andrea McAuslan
2 years 7 months ago
When land trusts first started to become popular in Vermont, the zeal was impressive. Of course conserving land was a wonderful project to pursue. And the (then) Ottaqueechee Land Trust was full of eager, caring people wanting to do right by Vermont’s heritage and landscape. However, despite my parents’ and many of their friends’ strong support of such endeavors, I have always been suspicious of these land trusts. I took the long view. I said to myself, okay, first generation efforts are always pure, true to cause, grass roots, small “d” democratic, etc., and generally address some very real need.… Read more »
Karl Riemer
2 years 7 months ago

That is one beautiful bit of commentary: nicely, cogently and precisely written!

Annette Smith
2 years 7 months ago

Yes, well said. I’ve observed some third-generation businesses in Vermont behave in ways that people familiar with the family have said “their grandfather never did business this way.”

Readers would benefit from reviewing this Chronicle article from October 2010 which details the involvement of Vermont Land Trust in a “deal” being put together with GMP behind the scenes but not disclosed to the landowners for months, with its genesis during the time that Mary Powell was chair of VLT’s board.

Patrice Maloney
2 years 7 months ago
Well said, Andrea. I am an advocate for conservation measures, but have mistrust for some of these large “nonprofits”. Many start out being funded by rich and powerful donors, wielding large lobbying budgets and outsized influence on bureaucrats and elected representatives (and their campaigns), who then make available taxpayer dollars in the form of grants used to pay big salaries and buy up conservation easements. I have read reports about west coast organizations that decided they needed to unload some of their inventory of properties; and guess what? They somehow had a clause in the fine print that allowed members… Read more »
Bud Haas
2 years 7 months ago

This reminds me of the Adirondack Lands, preserved “forever wild” in the New York State Constitution, until the real estate industry folks decided otherwise. Forever and Wild redefined to allow, however you want to say it, development.

doug carroll
2 years 7 months ago

dean needs to get to schumlin about this and get it vetoed if it is passed by legislature.
this is the worst idea i have heard of in land conservation in 30 years.
large corporate interests will gradually influence the outcomes as there are billions of dollars of profits at stake in undoing land conservation.
passage of this bill will end the land trust movement nationally, and weaken the will of all involved in it.

doug carroll, maryland

Frank Chance
2 years 7 months ago

Not fair to the property owners who invested in their property on the value of the land adjacent to land trust parcel.

Christopher Irion
2 years 7 months ago
It’s hard to assume that even with the detail of this article and the very thoughtful comments that have been made, that in fact all possible issues and ramifications have seen the light of day. Just this is reason to GO SLOW. If VLT really is the wise steward it likes to think of itself as, then they also should see the wisdom of slowing down the legislative process. Proceed with the non-contraversial aspects of the proposed legislation, and build in concrete assurances for those of us who fear the worst, rather than just saying, “That’s an extreme example, that… Read more »
2 years 7 months ago
Much of this discussion could be stemming from a very real concern about having the resources to effectively manage so much conserved land with so many differing easements. Parts of this legislation might help reduce some of the stewardship costs by merging easements and such. That said, I am skeptical of the need for Category 3 and concerned that it could be misused by future, less trustworthy organization leaders or even future state leaders, as this would give the state a new foothold in conservation easement management. Meanwhile, Categories 1 & 2 seem to be on the right path toward… Read more »
Karl Riemer
2 years 7 months ago
“The first time we do something like that is the last time we receive a donation.” Actually, the first time you start seeking permission to do something like that may be the last time you receive a donation, which appears to be where we are. This is a classic case of seeking broad authority to accomplish something beneficial, acknowledging it could be used perniciously, with the argument that the authority will only be used sparingly, and only for good, because it’s sought by good people. “We promise…” That’s abjectly specious. Authority outlasts people. Two questions: who decides what is beneficial?… Read more »
Robert Joseph
2 years 7 months ago

Well said!

Find the VLTs view disturbing to say the least.

2 years 7 months ago
This discussion of “in perpetuity” is one that those of us advocating for land preservation to accommodate green burial legislation and how this could be partnered with existing land trusts have been exploring for some time now. I doubt that most people would have any real problem with having compostable dead bodies put on specially designated preserved lands. This is an idea that many Vermonters now want to pursue. Why pay for expensive monuments and well maintained cemeteries when natural forest lands could be so designated? Many of our concerns are about the words “in perpetuity” which would make those… Read more »
doug carroll
2 years 7 months ago

good point ,ms bisbee,
the green burial movement is indeed as worthwhile a one as land preservation and is a great method to finance land preservation as well.
Future easements may be written with this use in mind, however, past easements did not consider this use, and should not be amended to include it, or any other newly invented non-agricultural, semi commercial, use.
A gold standard in enforcing easements is worth whatever sacrifices that may be needed.

Henrietta Jordan
2 years 7 months ago
As a consultant to land trusts who works with organizations in 15 states and a former staff member of the national Land Trust Accreditation Commission, I know that S.119 is being watched closely by land conservation practitioners across the nation. The possibility that “Category 3” amendments could be used to effect terminations of conservation easements (in whole or in part), easement “swaps,” and other breaches of a land trust’s promise to conserve a specific parcel of land in perpetuity will not only attract the attention of the IRS; it will also cause landowners to wonder whether the land they thought… Read more »
Townsend Peters
2 years 7 months ago

While those who disagree with the bill make cogent arguments, one overlooked point is that nothing actually lasts forever. In reality, there is no such thing as “in perpetuity.”

Therefore, it is not necessarily reasonable for land conservation organizations to represent, and donors to expect, otherwise.

doug carroll
2 years 7 months ago

that is defeatist reasoning
since the earth is overpopulated and ocean levels are rising, better just allow pollution

or another analogy is that since your dog is going to die anyway , just shoot it.

doug carroll

2 years 7 months ago
“Things are going to change over time in ways that no one could have anticipated, and land trusts are going to have to respond to that change,” Bradley wrote. I disagree. Things don’t have to change over time. I have made a gift easement on a 105.4 acre parcel, at my own expense in terms of legal fees and the abundance of time spent in the process and in fact was charged by the VLT for the privilege of making a conservation gift and covering their costs in the process of the application and processing. My municipality does not reduce… Read more »
David Chipman
2 years 7 months ago
I agree most emphatically with Dr.Roberts. I “gifted” an easement on 183 acres (all but six of the acres I owned) which decreased the appraised value of the land by about 50%. Although the one-time tax benefit arising from the gift was welcome, gaining a tax benefit was not my motive. I simply wanted to make sure that land that I held and cared for for more than 50 years (mostly a heavily wooded mountainside forest, but with a mile of road frontage) would be “forever” preserved for the benefit of the the “fauna, flora and fungi” which it shelters… Read more »
Robert Fisher
2 years 7 months ago
I am a Board member of a land conservancy in Wisconsin and also a donator of a 33 acre easement of rural woods and cropland to that organization. I, and others expect “perpetual” protection of “our” land, long after we are gone. However we have as a Board, wrestled with the issue of divesting the conservancy of some donated “fee” land we have been given. It would be given to other “conservation” groups, with a conservancy easement placed on it at the time of ownership transfer…but none-the-less, that raises questions of the original donator’s intent. We decided we would only… Read more »
Richard G Rogers
2 years 7 months ago

From my reading of this article it sounds like VLT can already do what it wants to do but it is a slow, difficult process that requires going through the courts. VLT seems to want to change the process by making it easier. I believe that would be a mistake and the process should be slow and difficult.

Thanks for reporting an error with the story, "In perpetuity, or not?"