The Land Trust’s Role
With conservation easements, the Land Trust holds, monitors and enforces all of the easements it obtains.
In accepting a conservation easement, we take on the legal responsibility to do this “in perpetuity.” In 2002, the Land Trust holds easements on 21 properties throughout Santa Barbara County.
When the easement is completed, the Land Trust prepares a Baseline Property Inventory including maps, photographs and written material describing the condition of the land, existing buildings and the conservation values. Both parties sign an acknowledgment that this represents the condition of the property when the easement is granted.
Generally, a Land Trust staff member and one or two of our board members conduct a monitoring site visit once or twice each year. Visits are scheduled in advance with the owner. We document changes in land use and the land itself, whether natural or human caused, in written notes and photographs. If necessary, we may engage specialists, such as biologists or agricultural advisors, to help us evaluate compliance with specific terms of the easement. We send the landowner a monitoring report describing our observations, and whether the property is being used in accord with the conservation easement.
In some cases, a conservation easement gives the Land Trust the right to be notified and to approve of certain improvements before they are built. For example, the location of permitted new homes or large agricultural buildings may be subject to Land Trust approval to minimize the impact on recognized scenic views. Our conservation easements do not specify the type of agriculture or the farming and ranching practices that an owner may employ. Easements protecting wildlife habitat may limit things like clearing vegetation or cutting of new roads in mapped areas of the property without Land Trust approval.
If the Land Trust determines that our easement has been violated (which has rarely happened), we request the owner to cure the violation, and have the right to require that any identified conservation values that have been damaged be restored. If a dispute over terms or enforcement of the easement arises, our easements call for mediation or arbitration. Ultimately, the Land Trust has specific enforcement rights, given only to the holder of the conservation easement, to take an owner to court to enforce the easement. In our history with local landowners this has never happened, but we take our responsibility seriously and are prepared to go to court if necessary to uphold and defend the easements we accept.
To ensure the Land Trust’s capacity to monitor and enforce our easements, we have a separate Stewardship Fund, restricted by our board of directors to be used only for monitoring and enforcement costs. When we accept a new easement, we ask the landowner to make a tax-deductible contribution to the Stewardship Fund. The suggested donation is based on the size of the property, the retained development rights and the complexity of the easement.