One thing that makes conservation easements so impactful is the “forever” part. Given that the only constant in our world is change, being in the business of forever means that people and organizations working with conservation easements have to think differently. They have to anticipate an unknown future, and translate that into the language of a legal document. One way that “forever” shows up in conservation easements is a provision on “cessation of conservancy existence,” “assignment,” or other similar language. This section ensures that even if an easement-holding organization doesn’t exist in the future, the conservation easements it holds will be assigned, through succession planning or by court order, to another qualified entity.
The Raisin Valley Land Trust (RVLT) was formed by a group of motivated individuals seeking to preserve land in the Raisin River watershed. Many years later, and with an aging, all-volunteer board, RVLT began to recognize they were not equipped to continue managing the conservation easements they held. Confronted with this new reality, in 2019 RVLT leaders approached Legacy with a question: if RVLT dissolved, would Legacy consider assuming responsibility for their 14 conservation easements?
After much discussion among Legacy staff, board, attorneys, and RVLT leadership—and with the understanding that, as an accredited regional land trust, Legacy was the most qualified entity to accept this responsibility—in 2021, Legacy’s Board of Trustees formally agreed to assume RVLT’s conservation easements.
However, agreeing to assume the easements is only the beginning of a long and complicated process. The work required to get to closing day is complex, involves a lot of moving parts and people, and creates a very long task list!
So far, we’ve sifted through all existing documentation and developed a plan to get each easement up to current Land Trust Accreditation standards. We’ve begun the required due diligence for each easement, which includes boundary surveys, environmental site assessments, title review, and preparation of current conditions reports. In some cases, this work has surfaced new issues that will require additional time and attention. Last but not least, we’ve begun the integral process of developing relationships with the RVLT easement landowners through due diligence efforts and annual monitoring in partnership with RVLT board members.
We are on track to have the RVLT easements under our wing by the end of the year, and look forward to sharing the process with you along the way!