On Monday, the Vermont Land Trust announced that it is backing out of the legislative process on a controversial bill that would have allowed conservation easements to be altered after legal review by either the environmental court or new five member panel. The bill had sparked significant opposition from experts who said legal avenues already exist to amend easements.
The VLT suspended work on the bill in mid-March after conservationists raised concerns that the bill would allow the VLT to act against donors’ intent to conserve a particular piece of land.
Earlier this month, Vermont Law School Professor John Echeverria outlined some of the concerns about the bill.
“Under this law, easements could be amended or terminated and the land sold for development, and the proceeds used to buy other lands or other easements in other parts of the state,” he said.
The VLT, when it suspended work on the bill, acknowledged that “the current bill is too broad, so we are working on changes that would greatly reduce its scope.”
But it appears that work will no longer be necessary, as the land trust announced Monday that “the general discomfort of our supporters has led to a decision to end our work on the current bill.”
The land trust maintains that allowing changes to easements would be beneficial, but spokeswoman Elise Annes said in a statement that more input from conservationists and the general public was needed.
This is a complex issue and we will take the time over the coming months to fully understand the concerns of conservationists, and to provide additional perspective to VLT friends. We will work with our friends at the Upper Valley Land Trust, the Agency of Agriculture and the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board to consider necessary legislation. As we pass the legacy of our conservation easements on to future generations, it is important for land trusts in Vermont to create a legal and public process to govern conservation easement changes. That process must be built with the trust and understanding of Vermonters, our members and owners of conserved land.
Clarification: This story has been amended from an earlier version to clarify that conservation easements are able to be amended under current law. The Vermont Land Trust says the bill intended to create a review process for those amendments.