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Home    |   Print Edition   |   Defining the Role of Conservation in Agricultural Conservation Easements

Defining the Role of Conservation in Agricultural Conservation Easements

Mar 26, 2020

Jess R. Phelps

Volume 44 (2017) - Issue 3

“Over the green squares of the fields and the low curve of a wood there rose in the distance a grey, melancholy hill, with a strange jagged summit, dim and vague in the distance, like some fantastic landscape in a dream.”1

Farmland preservation has become an important pursuit for those seeking to protect the working landscape against conversion to nonagricultural use. One of the most common approaches for securing this protection is through the targeted use of agricultural conservation easements, typically perpetual land- use agreements designed to limit incompatible activities in order to preserve future agricultural viability. There is, however, a growing tension within these perpetual agreements, particularly between the need to allow farmers substantial flexibility to adjust to future business conditions and the desire to protect significant noneconomic values, including the conservation and environmental benefits that these lands also provide. It is the purpose of this Article to evaluate the role of conservation efforts within this overall framework and to evaluate the potential options for securing greater protection of these important rural amenities.

To this end, Part I of this Article explores the various motivations that fuel farmland preservation nationwide. Part II discusses the evolution of farm policy towards its current degree of multifuctionality and the corresponding development and use of agricultural conservation easements as the preferred protective mechanism. Part III addresses the growing tension within these agreements as agricultural practice continues to evolve. Last, Part IV investigates the various approaches that can be used to protect the environmental attributes of protected agricultural lands. Ultimately, agricultural conservation easements will always require a balance between allowing flexibility for accommodating future needs and protecting rural amenities, but these agreements should actually result in a balance and ensure that the increasingly important conservation and environmental benefits associated with the working landscape are being adequately protected.