Protecting the Land for Conservation


What are conservation easements?

Conservation easements are legal agreements in writing, through which landowners voluntarily limit how their land can be used with the goal of protecting its natural resources. These contracts, between two or more owners, are signed, notarized, and legally registered. Subsequent owners must comply with their provisions, unless they are terminated or modified by the original parties.

Why are conservation easements important?

They are part of a larger plan to protect and preserve the natural beauty of Costa Rica. About 24% of the national territory is part of a system of protected lands owned by the government. However, most of the land needed to assure future responsible development in Costa Rica is private. Conservation easements provide private landowners with flexible legal instruments to conserve their lands voluntarily, and they have seen increasing use since 1992.

What are the most important characteristics of conservation easements?

1. Legal, recorded in the land registry;

2. Voluntary, only established as and when wanted

3. Flexible can be used to satisfy different needs and desires of landowners. For example, an owner may allow a tenant farmer to continue to use land already cleared, but not to clear additional land.

Who can create a conservation easement?

The laws of Costa Rica requires that two properties be involved —- (a) the property that accepts the restrictions on its use, and (b) another property that is benefited by the restrictions. The two properties need not abut each other, but they must be located near each other so that the protection of one of the properties is of actual benefit to the other. For example, in the case of a conservation easement in Monteverde, land use restrictions were imposed on property owned by The Nature Conservancy, while these restrictions benefit the property owned by The Monteverde Reserve. The property on which the restrictions are placed (the Servient Estate) can belong to individuals or entities, including conservation non-government organizations or, NGOs. It is common in Latin America for the property receiving the benefit of any restrictions (the Dominant Estate) to be an NGO. Both the owners of the restricted and benefited properties voluntarily agree to the conservation easement.

How long do conservation easements last?

If the owners of the property so desire, the easement can be established for a fixed period of time. If the contract does not state that it is for a determined period of time, the easement is perpetual. This means it “stays with the land” upon sale or death of the owner. However, conservation easements can be terminated the same way they are established — by voluntary agreement signed, notarized and filed at the public registry. Because funds used to purchase land which is subjected to conservation easements are often donated, the donors want to be sure that the conservation easement is not terminated or modified in ways that are detrimental to the donors’ intent.

What are the responsibilities under conservation easements?

Establishing a conservation easement does not affect the ownership of the land. The obligations of landowners are, in essence, those established by the contract, the easement itself. The owner of the property on which the restrictions were placed must comply with the restrictions, and the owner of the land that is benefited by the easement should make certain that the obligations are being complied with.

Protecting the Land