As a land trust, our responsibility is to care for our conservation lands and to protect the natural resources of each property forever. The Monadnock Conservancy takes that obligation seriously. Good working relationships with landowners, careful recordkeeping and annual monitoring are key components of a strong stewardship program.
Caring for the land
Safeguarding the natural resources and other reasons for which a property is conserved requires ongoing, diligent stewardship. As those most closely connected to the land, landowners of protected land play a key role as knowledgeable, active observers of what occurs on the property. The Conservancy staff works side-by-side with the landowners to ensure long-term protection of the land.
It's the responsibility of the Monadnock Conservancy to:
- Document the land’s conservation values and natural resources in a baseline report
- Conduct annual monitoring visits
- Communicate and collaborate with landowners
- Keep accurate and up-to-date records
- Respond to landowner concerns and requests for approval, amendments and reserved rights
- Work with landowners to enforce and resolve any violations of the easement terms
- Raise and manage stewardship funds
Without the resources to monitor and enforce each easement effectively, our lands will not truly be protected in perpetuity. Thus the Monadnock Conservancy maintains three funds specifically for covering future stewardship costs. The Conservancy seeks a contribution to our Easement Stewardship Fund at the completion of each easement or land acquisition project. Investment returns on the Easement Stewardship Fund are used to pay a portion of stewardship costs. The remainder is paid out of the Conservancy’s annual operating budget. The long-term goal is to increase the fund such that stewardship costs are fully covered by the stewardship funds.
Whenever possible the grantor is asked to cover the contribution, as other sources of money are quite limited. At the same time, we recognize that land conservation has broad benefits, so we will help identify municipal or neighborhood sources that may be available to contribute to such transaction costs. Contributions can be made in lump sum payments, through annual installments or through planned giving arrangements agreed upon during the negotiating process.
Contributions are also made to our Land Management Fund when a grantor donates land outright. The stewardship of properties actually owned by the Conservancy entails a different set of costs, including property taxes, signage, gates and other infrastructure. Accordingly, the Land Management Fund exists to fund these unique needs. The fund may be supplemented from time to time by land management revenue such as from sustainable timber harvests.
In addition to the Easement Stewardship Fund and Land Management Fund, the Conservancy has established an Enforcement Fund, which is tapped when it's necessary to pay for more extraordinary costs such as legal defense or environmental restoration. The Enforcement Fund provides additional confidence that the Conservancy can uphold its commitments, now and for years to come.
What we ask of landowners
As an easement property owner, you are responsible for complying with the specific terms of the conservation easement on your property. These include allowing Conservancy staff or volunteers to access your land for regular monitoring activities, providing notice to the Conservancy before exercising certain reserved rights or transferring title to the property by sale or gift. You must also abide by all local, state and federal laws that regulate activities on your protected land.
We recommend landowners review the easement deed each year and any time there is a change in land use.
The keys to easement compliance are:
- Knowledge of and adherence to the terms of the easement deed
- Familiarity with the easement boundaries
- Notifying Conservancy staff of plans for changes in land use
- Sharing easement details with any person who uses or manages your land, including tenants, foresters, loggers and farmers
- Partnering with the Conservancy to monitor the land, including annual property visits
Annual property visits
Each year staff and trained volunteer land stewards visit all properties owned by and all conservation easements held by the Monadnock Conservancy. These monitoring visits, or property inspections, allow the Conservancy to verify that the terms of the easement are being met, that the land is well cared for and that there are no significant ecological changes. Monitoring ensures the protection of the land’s conservation values over time.
The landowner is contacted beforehand and is invited to join us as we walk the boundaries and interior of the property since the visit provides an ideal opportunity to reconnect, share information, address questions or concerns, and talk about future plans for the property.
We keep written records, maps and photographs on file to document monitoring visits. These records are retained permanently, in the unfortunate event that the easement deed must be upheld in court. If a violation of the easement’s provisions is noted, staff will work closely with the landowner and with any potential violator to stop harmful activities, resolve issues and restore the land.
Enforcing conservation agreements
Even with diligent stewardship, the Monadnock Conservancy must be ready to defend our conservation lands, up to and including legal action. In some rare cases an individual landowner may act in clear violation of an easement’s provisions. In other cases, abutters, members of the public or professionals such as loggers or contractors may act counter to the terms. In any of these instances, the Conservancy does as much as possible to see that the activity is stopped and that the condition of the land is restored. If necessary, the Conservancy will seek independent mediation, arbitration and/or legal action to uphold its obligations, as guided by the terms of the easement and Conservancy policies.
Some examples of common violations include dumping of man-made materials, motor vehicle trespass, procedural violations and neglect of best management practices for forestry and agriculture.
It can be costly to defend conservation lands against violations, but the cost of inaction is far more expensive. Thus, we maintain an Enforcement Fund. The Conservancy is also participating in the Terrafirma Risk Retention Group LLC, a charitable risk pool owned by participating land trusts that insures its members against the legal costs of defending conservation. With Terrafirma, land trusts across America stand united to defend the permanence of conservation.