Environmental and Natural Resources Law Center (CEDARENA)
Instruments for Private Conservation: Conservation Easements
Rain Forest Aerial Tram
Braulio Carrillo National Park
April 17, 2002
Trip Background Information
Information: Carolina Mauri, Lawrence Pratt (EcoConsulta)
Field Trip Led by Ana Victoria Rojas (CEDARENA)
This field trip
is to visit the Rainforest Aerial Tram, located on the edge of Costa
Rica's largest national park. The Tram is one of Costa Rica's most
visited tourist attractions. It provides the opportunity to glide
through forest canopy in one of the countries richest ecosystems.
The Tram is one of the most well-known examples of the use of conservation
easements to protect natural resources and strengthen the long-term
value of this conservation-oriented tourist attraction.
at Aerial Tram
of conservation easements
climate at the Rainforest Aerial Tram is tropical and very warm,
since it is located in low to mid elevation tropical forest. Expect
high temperatures around 30C (90F). At this time of year, expect
alternating sunshine and clouds. There is always the possibility
of a rain shower.
What to Bring
Wear comfortable, casual clothes (preferably long pants) and
comfortable shoes. A hat for sun (and flying or falling "biodiversity")
is recommended. Consider bringing a light rain jacket.
Well aware that millions of biodiversity-rich, forested acres
lie in private hands, conservation groups in Latin America are developing
creative ways to encourage landowners to safeguard the forests they
own. With help from The Nature Conservancy (TNC), the Environmental
and Natural Resources Law Center (CEDARENA by its Spanish acronym),
first established a conservation easement in Costa Rica eight years
ago and now has fostered 60 contracts with private landowners, protecting
some 7,000 acres. "Conservation easements," are self-designed
legal agreements in which a landowner voluntarily limits development
and other activities on his or her property. While conservation
easements are still new in the region, they are growing in popularity.
are helping landowners survey their acreage and devise a management
plan that might, for example, keep much of the property in untouched
forest, while permitting a few homes, low-impact farming, or sustainable
logging on another portion. The agreed-upon plan is written up as
a contract and transferred to anyone who might purchase the land,
right along with the deed to the property.
An increasingly common legal tool for land owners desiring
to maintain certain portions of their land in an undeveloped state
is the conservation easement, which is granted to a nonprofit land
conservation organization or a government agency, giving that grantee
the right to enforce the terms of the easement. The potential positive
income and estate tax benefits of donating a qualified conservation
easement to an appropriate grantee, or possible revenues from the
sale of an easement for lands with exceptionally high natural resource
values, make the mechanism one worthy of consideration for individuals
and businesses. A reduction in property taxes may also result from
the restrictions imposed by the easement.
easement is a relatively simple and very flexible legal mechanism
by which property owners voluntarily, and in writing, agree to certain
use restrictions on their properties. These agreements may be between
two or more individuals or organizations and may relate to several
Under an easement,
landowners still own and use their land and can sell it or pass
it on to their heirs, with future landowners bound by the easement's
terms. The grantee remains responsible for monitoring the property
to make sure the terms are followed.
No zoning ordinances
are required and no governmental intervention is necessary, other
than the filing of a simple legal document with the Civil Registry
(this is the Costa Rican national property registry). These voluntary
use restrictions "run with the land" until such time as
all property owners involved in the easement mutually agree to a
different arrangement. No modification or revocation of the agreement
can be binding unless the parties subsequently file another written
document memorializing the agreed upon change(s) or nullifying the
easement in its entirety. In the event of sale and/ or subdivision
of a property, the easement is not affected.
Lands of local
significance may also generate funds raised by local land trusts,
which purchase conservation easements when a landowner is willing
to maintain land in a natural state, and local donors ante up adequate
funds to conserve a local natural landmark. Land trusts are thus
uniquely capable of tapping local concern for maintaining scenic
views or protecting wildlife habitat.
conservation easements by governmental agencies is increasingly
common, although funding is usually reserved for land that has extremely
high natural resource values.
3. The Exampe
of Monteverde's Conservation Easement
Fore example, many residents of the Monteverde community are
advancing an initiative designed to provide corridors, or "stepping
stones" of natural habitats between larger existing protected
areas. This initiative, named Enlace Verde or "Green Link,"
was initiated in 1994 during a Monteverde Town Meeting. Initially,
the idea of easements arose as an option that would allow private
landowners to effectively determine the zoning of the community
neighborhoods and common areas. A volunteer commission was established,
and it was there that the idea of linking reserves was incorporated
into the plan. It has evolved into a broadly supported initiative
through which local landowners may dedicate all or discrete parts
of their properties to conservation easements.
At this point,
the biological corridor has become a central focus of many landowners,
and is one point that everyone has agreed they would like to incorporate
into their easements. During a July 1997 meeting of property owners,
it was unanimously agreed that by establishing conservation easements
to protect the forest corridor on some ten contiguous properties
bordering or near to the Guacimal and Maquina Rivers, the community
could make a strong and lasting outward demonstration of inner beliefs
about the importance of conserving certain critical areas of forest
for current and future generations.
The Enlace Verde
Commission, and CEDARENA, embrace the opportunity to be leaders
in demonstrating thoughtful land use planning and conservation of
critical habitats through the use of easements, as well as the opportunity
to demonstrate through example the inclusion of creative and positive-focused
provisions for monitoring and dispute resolution. For example, monitoring
provisions for some properties will include students from the local
high schools' science programs, and dispute resolution clauses include
mediation and arbitration channels involving community members and
NGOs rather than the traditional judicial processes which can be
expensive and drag out for years without resolution.
Easements and the Aerial Tram
Tram's developers spent several years investigating possible sites
to locate this new concept in conservation-oriented tourism. They
selected the current site because of the extraordinary biological
richness of the area and its proximity to San Jose (approximately
one hour by car or bus). The site is old growth forest adjacent
to Braulio Carrillo National Park, and is located in one of the
most important corredors of biological diversity in Central America.The
site is officially located in the Park's buffer area, however other
buffer areas (those adjacent to the Tram site and in the surrounding
area) are under pressure from agricultural and other less environmentally-friendly
The Tram's developers
recognized the inseperable relationship between the health of the
ecosystem in which they are operating and the success of their business.
With CEDARENA they established a conservation easement to ensure
that a broad area of primary forest is protected in perpetuity to
simultaneously protect the natural resources and help ensure the
long-term success of their investment.
Questions and Issues
easements have existed in many industrialized countries for at least
two decades. Only recently have developing countries begun to use
them as conservation instruments. What are the necessary conditions
for a country to use this mechanism? How transfereable are the concepts
2) Is there
a potential role for conservation easements in environmental enforcement
and compliance? Either through enforcement of the agreements, or
in remedial actions?