The Land Trust Alliance's New Accreditation Program

Campopiano, Marc
August 2006
Ecology Law Quarterly;2006, Vol. 33 Issue 3, p897
Academic Journal
The use of conservation easements has risen dramatically over the past twenty years, resulting in the protection of millions of acres of conservation land and historic properties. The land trust community--a diverse collection of thousands of individual land trusts, big and small--has helped drive this success. Unfortunately, a wave of scandals threatens to jeopardize these accomplishments. A recent series of articles by the Washington Post exposed abuses by the world's largest land trust, The Nature Conservancy (TNC), including the apparent exploitation of tax benefits garnered from donation of conservation easements that involved excessive easement appraisals or land with dubious conservation value. Subsequent investigations by Congress and the Internal Revenue Service revealed additional problems, including insufficient monitoring and enforcement of conservation easements, and sounded calls for broad legislative and regulatory reform. The Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation proposed draconian restrictions on tax deductions for gifts of land that could lead to a sharp reduction in donated conservation easements. In an effort to ameliorate these concerns and avoid federal intervention, the Land Trust Alliance (LTA)--the umbrella organization for the nation's land trusts--launched a new accreditation program for individual land trusts. The accreditation program aims to restore the public confidence, assure long-term protection of conservation easements, and deter governmental intrusion. This Comment discusses the concern among some in the land trust community that top-down oversight will drive smaller land trusts out of existence and erode or destroy the grassroots nature of land trusts that has led to much of their success. Nevertheless, a strong accreditation program by LTA is essential to stem current abuses and further erosion of the public trust, and to prevent severe regulatory backlash. As the use of conservation easements becomes more common, and more actors outside the environmental mainstream become involved, institutional protections that were not required in the past may become necessary. To that end, this Comment provides options for refining the accreditation program to help LTA achieve its goals.


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