At Mohonk Preserve, one of our highest priorities is permanently protecting the land entrusted to us by neighbors, donors, and supporters. Since 1963, the Preserve has worked openly, closely, and cooperatively with our more than 250 immediate neighbors along our 50-mile border. During this time, we have entered into purchases, donations, and mutually beneficial, voluntary conservation agreements with dozens of them, for which we’ve been regionally and nationally recognized.
In all of our land protection efforts, the Preserve adheres to the high land-acquisition standards established by the Land Trust Alliance (LTA), and has properly recorded deeds and surveys for all of the properties for which we are responsible. In 2013, after an extensive evaluation, Mohonk Preserve was awarded accreditation by the Land Trust Accreditation Commission for excellence in land protection. The Preserve is one of only 300 land trusts from across the country that has been awarded accreditation, and the first to be accredited in Ulster County.
But our work doesn’t stop with an acquisition or easement. The Preserve develops and executes conservation science-based management plans and conducts rigorous monitoring of our properties to ensure their preservation and proper use.
The Preserve is ever mindful of the intentions of those landowners from whom we’ve purchased land, received donations of land, or entered into conservation easement agreements. These individuals have entrusted us with the preservation of beloved properties, some of which have been passed down through several generations, and we take the obligation to protect these properties very seriously.
As is common in areas with property records dating back several centuries, occasionally boundary line issues have arisen with these acquired or conserved properties. In most of these rare cases, issues with local landowners have been fairly and amicably resolved. Unfortunately, in two cases, neighboring landowners have systematically sought to gain possession of over 116 acres of land owned by Mohonk Preserve, and have rebuffed the Preserve’s exhaustive attempts over several years to amicably resolve boundary line issues, leading the Preserve to seek legal redress.
While the Preserve ultimately received favorable judgements in these cases, the lengthy legal proceedings diverted funds and staff time that could otherwise have been directed toward land protection and stewardship. For more information on these cases, please see our Litigation Update.
According to the LTA, across America conservation easements and preserves are increasingly under attack from adjoining landowners, developers, and trespassers. As property values rise, incentives to disrupt or void easements, and trespass on land trust properties also grow, often leading to litigation.
As the LTA notes, the stakes for land trusts are high, as a single adverse judicial decision could endanger the permanence of conserved land, and the cost of even a single lawsuit could threaten the survival of many organizations. Further, if a land trust fails to properly defend its property or lands held in conservation easement, it may result in bad case law that could jeopardize conservation easements held by other organizations across the United States.
In recognition of the importance, and considerable cost, of defending conserved lands, in April 2011 the LTA created the Terrafirma Risk Retention Group LLC, a conservation defense insurance program for land trusts, of which the Preserve is a charter supporter.
Clearly, the price of permanent land protection is steep, but for the Preserve and other conservation organizations, this is a worthwhile investment to uphold the public trust for protected lands. We will continue to make good on our promise to preserve, protect, and when necessary, legally defend the lands entrusted to us for the public benefit, ensuring that the places we treasure today will be passed down to the citizen conservationists of tomorrow.
Banner photo by Renee Zernitsky