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Overview of The Nature Conservancy Easement Study

Published: October 2005

​Additional Resources
Easement Survey Form
Study Dataset
Individual Easement Survey Form
The Nature Conservancy has been in the business of land conservation for over fifty years and works in all 50 of the United States and 28 countries. In the US, the Conservancy holds more easements (over 2100) and more acres of easements (over 2.7
million acres) than any other land trust. Use of easements as a conservation tool has expanded greatly in recent years across the land trust community. The Conservancy is no exception, and in fact if one uses acres as the metric, then conservation easements represent the dominant protection strategy used by TNC for private lands.
In light of numerous newspaper accounts, scholarly articles, and books dedicated to conservation easements recently and there is a vigorous debate concerning the effectiveness and public good of easements. Almost without exception, the discussions are anecdotal as opposed to analytical. Even the scholarly reports tend to be case studies rather than formal statistical analyses based on random samples from which estimates of easement attributes can be gleaned, or hypotheses about easement performance can be tested.
The most important contribution of our study is a randomly selected and geographically broad data base that can be used by the land trust and scientific community, and can provide a benchmark of easements in January 2005 against which to gauge future conservation work and results. As described below, we gathered detailed data on 119 randomly selected easements. These data were obtained via surveys, but the surveys were filled in by conservation staff whom are responsible for monitoring or visiting easements as well as the landscape-scale conservation projects for which easements are one piece of an overall conservation strategy. Each easement required hours of data entry or inquiry, and ambiguities were (partially) addressed by producing a “supplemental survey” that asked field staff to revisit questions and clarify previous answers. In short, the data represented by this study are unique.