Private Land and Water Conservation: Examining Conservation Easements


William Snape

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



I’ve been practicing natural resource conservation law for 30 years on behalf of wildlife and biological diversity in the United States. I’ve worked with all three branches of the federal government, as well as state and local governments, primarily regarding the implementation of federal environmental statutes — with occasional touches of common law, state law, and international law — to protect the magnificent diversity of flora and fauna in this country. It is frequently a combative political atmosphere, especially when private property use is at issue.

Until I started teaching property law a few years ago, I paid little attention to so-called conservation easements, despite that about 60 million acres of private land and water in the United States are protected by land trusts, much of it under conservation easements. To put this acreage into context, the entire national park system encompasses 85 million acres. Michigan, the 11th largest state, is about 61 million acres. So we are talking about a lot of land and water and, unlike the federal park and public land system, the amounts of land and water protected under conservation easements are still growing.