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Why Environmental Lawyers Should Know (and Care) About Land Trusts and Their Private Land Conservation Transactions

March 2003

Citation: ELR 10223

Author: Federico Cheever and Nancy A. McLaughlin

I. Introduction

For the past decade, traditional environmental lawyers--advocates for the public interest, governments, and regulated parties--have watched, with mixed feelings, the dramatic rise of a distinct form of land conservation. Private, nonprofit land trusts appear to be everywhere, purchasing scenic sections of the California coast, expanding nature preserves in Wisconsin, and encouraging organic farming in Rhode Island. Type "land trust" into your favorite web browser and you will be presented with an almost endless list of organizations, large and small, who are working to preserve a broad array of public and private lands--from wetlands and wildlife habitat, to farm and ranch lands, to historic sites.

Traditional environmental lawyers have not always known how to respond to the rapid growth in the number of these private or quasi-private land conservation transactions. A few have embraced the new development, but many have responded with benign, or not-so-benign, neglect. Some were not distressed when, in May 2003, the Washington Post published a three-part exposé taking The Nature Conservancy, the nation's largest and most well-endowed land trust, to task. There is a significant danger that such negative publicity will confirm the suspicions of some environmental lawyers regarding the intentions of the fast growing "land trust community" and the efficacy of their land conservation transactions.

Federico Cheever is Professor of Law at the University of Denver College of Law. He would like to thank Nancy McLaughlin, a wonderful coauthor, Michael Balster for his diligent research work, and Michael Strugar for his advice and inspiration. Nancy McLaughlin is Associate Professor of Law at the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law. She would like to thank Federico Cheever for the opportunity to collaborate, and Michael Strugar for his practical insights. She is also grateful for the support provided by the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law through its Summer Research Stipend Program.

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