A review of Pennsylvania judicial decisions reveals that conservation easement holders and the conservation values they uphold prevail when a dispute leads to litigation. Courts respect the text of easement documents and their conservation purposes. This guide reviews eleven cases where the interpretation or enforcement of a conservation easement was at the center of litigation.
Conservation organizations can avoid many potential difficulties in conservation easement stewardship by ensuring that their conservation easement documents are drafted to conform with the Conservation and Preservation Easements Act.
Little evidence exists to support the proposition that a donated conservation easement, in the absence of a charitable trust agreement, is a charitable trust in Pennsylvania; indeed, there is compelling evidence to the contrary. (Holder covenants may be used to buttress easements and do not run into the legal obstacles or suffer from the policy failings of the trust proposition.)
No legal precedent exists in Pennsylvania for finding that a conservation easement acquired by a private land trust is a public trust.
Landowners grant conservation easements to conservation organizations (“land trusts”) in perpetuity. The conservation objectives of the easement and the associated restrictions on how land can be used are intended to be permanent. Land trusts and their allies across the nation go to great lengths to ensure this permanence.
By statute and by common law interpretation, a conservation easement is a real estate interest and is governed by real estate law, in particular, the law of servitudes. This guide analyzes the nature of the conservation easement and the operation of the document granting the easement. It includes discussion of the mechanisms that assist in upholding the easement’s conservation objectives in perpetuity.
Who can assert claims and be heard in Pennsylvania’s courts if a dispute heats up over the management of a conservation easement?