The Private Landowner Contributing to Sustainable Development
The natural beauty of Costa Rica is admired throughout the world. And for this reason, Costa Ricans have for decades been working to consolidate a system of protected areas that now occupies almost 24% of the national territory. Many of these lands are state property, or rather, of all Costa Ricans. However, the great majority of the lands needed for the sustainable development of Costa Rica are private property.
Therefore, it is very important to offer private landowners flexible legal instruments that can help them both develop as well as conserve their lands. To meet this need, since 1992 a new legal mechanism known as the conservation easement is being used in Costa Rica. Conservation easements are very attractive to land owners because of their versatility and the fact that their constitution is voluntary.
What are Conservation Easements?
Conservation easements are legal agreements through which landowners voluntarily limit the use of their lands with the goal of protecting their natural attributes.
What are their Most Important Characteristics?
* Voluntary: Conservation easements are private contracts where the landowner decides whether he wants to limit the use of his lands or not. Therefore, they are only established when landowners want them.
* Flexible: Conservation easements can be used to satisfy the diverse desires o that the land owners might have. For example, the owner of a property on which a conservation easement is established might agree to not cut trees on his property, but allow the construction of a house, the creation of a trail, etc.
How is a Conservation Easement Created?
A conservation easement is a contract that should be inscribed in the public registry so that it can be more easily enforced. For this reason, it should be created by a public deed that can be signed by any notary public.
Who can Create Them?
The laws of Costa Rica provide that two properties are required for the creation of a conservation easement: a) a property that accepts restrictions on its use and b) another property that is benefited by the restrictions. For example, in the case of Monteverde, land use restrictions are imposed on the property of TNC, while these restrictions benefit the property of TSC (The Monteverde Reserve). Thus a conservation easement can be established if the owners of both the restricted and the benefited properties voluntarily agree to do so.
How Long do they Last?
If the owners of the property so desire, conservation easements can be established for a determined period of time. However, if the contract that creates the easement does not state that it is for a determined period of time, the easement is perpetual. This can be very attractive to landowners, as they can be assured that the forest that they are now trying to protect will remain protected forever.
What are the Obligations and Responsibilities of the Owners of Lands with Conservation Easements?
The establishment of a conservation easement does not affect the ownership of land; and the owners who create the easement continue to own their respective properties until they decide, if ever, that they want to sell. The obligations and responsibilities of these landowners are those that were established in the contract that established the conservation easement.
Basically, the obligations of the owner of the property on which restrictions were placed has the obligation to comply with these restrictions, while the owner of the land that is benefited by the easement has the obligation to make sure that the obligations are being complied with.
Therefore, it is recommended that the contract that creates the easement establish how compliance with the easement shall be established, such as by periodic visits, aerial photos, etc.
What are the Benefits of Creating a Conservation Easement?
Definitely, the principal benefit of establishing a conservation easement is to guarantee the protection of natural resources on private lands and thereby contribute to the sustainable development of the country. This helps to maintain clean air and water, prevent soil erosion, maintain habitat for wildlife and provide many other benefits as well. In addition, in some cases the establishment of conservation easements have raised the value of the limited property or of nearby parcels.
Further, several landowners have established conservation easements and at the same time are complying with the requirements for recognition of their property as Private National Wildlife Refuges. In this way they can enjoy benefits s uch as exemption from property taxes. Others are interested in receiving economic incentives that the National System of Conservation Areas of the Ministry of the Environment and Energy are offering for environmental services provided by their land.
How can a Conservation Easement be Terminated?
Conservation easements can be terminated in the same way that they are established: the owners of the restricted and benefited properties voluntarily agree to terminate the easement, and then contact a notary public to sign the agreement and present it to the public registry. Of course, this would only be necessary if the conservation easement were not for a limited period of time that had already passed.
Where can more Information about Conservation Easements be Obtained?
The Environmental and Natural Resources Law Center (CEDARENA) and the Association for the Conservation and Management of Tropical Forests (COMBOS) are developing the Central American Conservation Easement Initiative. This initiative is undertaking legal research in the seven countries of Central America and is helping landowners establish conservation easements in Costa Rica. For more information about this project or about conservation easements in general, please visit the CEDARENA website or call (506) 2283-7080 . Fax (506) 2224-1426. You may, of course, also contact us for more info.