Date of Award


Document Type

Honors Thesis (Open Access)


Colby College. Environmental Studies Program


Philip J. Nyhus

Second Advisor

F. Russell Cole

Third Advisor

Travis Reynolds


This thesis examines conservation easement policies across the New England states. Conservation easements are legal agreements through which landowners donate or sell some or all of their properties' development rights to conservation entities, typically government entities or land trusts. I specifically ask: How do conservation easement policies compare across the New England states? How can conservation easement policies be reformed to enhance the use of easements as a conservation tool? Although easements allow conservation entities to conserve more land for less money, the ecological and social implications of the increased use of easements have been debated.

I evaluate data availability, predominant holder types, secondary holders, size and distribution, funding mechanisms, stewardship, public access, and amendment and termination procedures for easements in each of the New England states. My findings suggest that data availability is extremely poor across the six states. I also find that state and private entities are the predominant easement holders. Data on secondary holders are limited, but more than 1 ,000 easement tracts in Vermont have at least one secondary holder. Secondary holders become involved either because they have financed the easement or to ensure the easement' s perpetuity. Average conservation easement tract size is largest in Maine and smallest in the southern New England states. Conservation easements are significantly clumped across the states. There is evidence of decreased funding for conservation in most of the states. Conservation entities tend to draw funding from many sources in order to finance the acquisition of large easements, and large land trusts and land trust coalitions support the activities of smaller land trusts. There seems to be increased focus on easement stewardship and on amendment and termination frameworks across the New England states. The status of public access remains uncertain. I conclude that moving forward, one of the greatest priorities for conservation easement policy should be improvement of easement data. It seems likely that land trusts and private entities will have to continue to play a leading role in improving conservation easement policy and stewardship. This thesis identifies future research directions, such as characterizing: the clumping of conservation easements; the cost-effectiveness of having an overarching government stewardship body for monitoring state-held easements; and, the efficacy of recently implemented easement amendment and termination procedures.


Conservation, Policies, New England, Legal, Easements

Multimedia URL