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Adaptive Forest Management Under Conservation Easement

Conservation easements are a viable tool for forest and agricultural land protection. However, forest landowners have been slow to adopt the practice due to lingering misconceptions about accompanying constraints as well, perhaps, perceived misalignment of values between current owners and those who wish to conserve wooded landscapes. In the past, objective statements for individual conservation easements sought to conserve a broad suite of values; however, over time through lessons learned by conservancies and land trusts, objective statements for easements have tended to be more focused. While this should simplify easement enforcement and monitoring, it has led to less flexibility for both landowners and conservation organizations. There is a clear need to create conservation easements designed specifically for working forests that allow for adaptive management especially under changing ecological conditions (e.g., invasive species, climate change) as well as changing norms and expectations held by future owners and conservancy staff. While there are tools for adapting forest management that fit current and changing needs, many conservancies may lack the technical capacity or staff hours to implement and monitor easements that allow for adaptive changes imposed by changing objectives, ownership, and even unexpected external ecological conditions that will change conservation values. This workshop will share the results of an applied research project bench-marking conservation organizations from around the US that focus their protection strategies on working forests, as well the results of a recent survey of Pennsylvania’s land trusts and conservancies to assess current modes of engagement with adaptive management on forested properties. In the second half we will hold a facilitated discussion to understand land trust and conservancy needs and resources that may assist with forest management under conservation easement, and opportunities to adapt existing models in use today.