Conservation Easement Revitalization Project
A conservation easement is a legal agreement between a landowner and a land trust or government agency that permanently limits uses of the land in order to protect its conservation values. Easements are a widely used tool for preserving land. Yet because the land itself generally remains in separate, private ownership, ensuring that easements continue to fulfill their original promise as time passes and land changes hands is often a challenge.
New Jersey Conservation Foundation recently took part in a national project called the Easement Revitalization Research Project. The project was sponsored and funded by the Open Space Institute in New York and funded by the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, the Kohlberg Foundation and Resources Legacy Fund.
New Jersey Conservation Foundation was one of six case study partners nationally working with consultant Marc Smiley from Solid Ground to obtain a comprehensive understanding of the extent to which land trusts are encountering situations where conservation protections on private lands are not being honored, and to focus on how land trusts can remedy or otherwise manage these troubled easements.
A subsequent report evaluated the case study easements and gave options for addressing the challenges that have arisen. NJCF staff provided feedback on the report, which has been finalized in the form of a general guidebook, “Easement Revitalization Guidebook,” for land trusts across the country.
Download a copy of the guidebook >>
On a state level New Jersey Conservation Foundation, as the state’s leading private holder of conservation easements, has launched an initiative to ensure the long-term viability and integrity of conservation easements throughout the Garden State. Working with conservation partners from all sectors, we are developing strategies to ensure that easements remain an effective preservation tool and that preserved land is truly protected in perpetuity.
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|Advancing and Defending Environmentally Sound Regional Plans
New Jersey has a strong history of adopting comprehensive regional plans. Regional planning that incorporates environmental protection is critical to protecting the land and water supplies on which we depend. Other important benefits of such planning includes stabilizing local property taxes, retaining the character of rural areas and established communities, and generally promoting growth in places where it is less environmentally damaging and more cost-effective to build, because of the presence of existing infrastructure like roads, sewers and public water systems.
New Jersey Conservation Foundation has been integrally involved in the passage of many landmark New Jersey regional planning laws, including the Pinelands Protection Act, the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act, the Delaware and Raritan Canal State Park law, and the State Planning Act. Constant vigilance is required to ensure these laws and their regional plans aren't weakened over time.
Help Protect the Highlands
The Highlands are part of the great sweep of the Appalachian Mountains that shadows the East Coast from Maine to Georgia. The Highlands Region extends from southeastern Pennsylvania through northwest New Jersey into New York and Connecticut. With forested ridges, pastoral farmland, and pure streams, lakes and reservoirs, the Highlands form a greenbelt surrounding the most populous metropolitan area in the US. The Highlands provide an essential source of drinking water, clean air, critical wildlife habitat, historic resources, recreational opportunities and scenic beauty for both its residents and the millions of people who live within an hour’s travel.
About the New Jersey Highlands Act
New Jersey’s 2004 Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act passed by overwhelming majorities in the State legislature after two decades of focused citizen and governmental efforts to protect the New Jersey Highlands Region. The 860,000 acre Highlands, with only 17 percent of the land in the State, provides drinking water to 5.4 million – nearly two-thirds – of the State’s residents, who live in fifteen counties in northern central and southern New Jersey. If you are either a Highlands water-drinker or a Highlands resident, there is good reason for you to become involved in the region’s protection.
If you are either a Highlands water-drinker or a Highlands resident, there is good reason for you to become involved in the region’s protection.The New Jersey Highlands Coalition has an outreach program directed to Highlands water-receiving areas outside the region. To find out more visit the Highlands Coalition website.
The Highlands Act affects 88 municipalities in parts of seven counties: Bergen, Passaic, Morris, Somerset, Hunterdon, Sussex and Warren. The Highlands Water Protection and Planning Council (Highlands Council) and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) are both charged with implementing the Act. The DEP has rule-making authority over the Preservation Area, about half the region, much of which is preserved state and county lands. The Highlands Council completed the required Regional Master Plan (RMP) for the 88 municipalities in 2008.
Highlands Plan Conformance
Conformance with the Plan is mandatory for the Preservation Area, but voluntary for the Planning Area. Since the Plan is based on scientific assessments of available water supply and septic capability in each watershed, its build out scenario, along with required environmental ordinances, offers a blueprint for sustainable, capacity-based development for all Highlands municipalities in both the Preservation and Planning Areas. Implementation is achieved through municipal conformance with the Plan, which benefits substantially from the involvement and support of local residents.
As of December 2012, 43 municipalities and two counties (Passaic and Somerset) have had their Plan Conformance Petitions approved by the Highlands Council. Of the 88 Highlands municipalities, 60 have submitted Plan Conformance Petitions. You can check the status of specific municipalities on the Highlands Council website - www.highlands.state.nj.us.
You can help move Plan Conformance along! The New Jersey Highlands Coalition, of which NJCF is a founding member, has a Highlands Advocate Program that you can join to take action. Please visit the New Jersey Highlands Coalition website to find out more.
Let's Not Let Politics Trump Water
New Jersey Conservation Foundation is working to defend the Highlands from efforts by the Christie Administration to weaken the Highlands’ protections.
Damaging steps already taken include the appointment of anti-conservation individuals to the Highlands Council. At the Council, the progress of plan conformance by municipalities has slowed dramatically.
We and other environmentalists are concerned about potential weakening of the Regional Master Plan during an upcoming review process. Also, it is feared that strongly protective DEP Highlands rules may be revised. Without gubernatorial leadership committed to Highlands protection, New Jersey faces the serious risk of damage to the watersheds that represent the State’s primary source of drinking water.
The Highlands Council meets monthly at 5 p.m. on Thursdays at the Council headquarters at 100 North Road (Route 513) north of Chester Borough in Morris County. New Jersey Conservation Foundation regularly monitors and comments at these meetings.
We also periodically post action alerts on Highlands issues, so please sign up for our email alerts and stay tuned!
Read statement by former Governors about the importance of protecting Highlands, Pinelands >>
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|Addressing Climate Change and Energy Policy
The rapidly growing focus on energy and climate change at the state and national levels creates both challenges and opportunities for land conservation. We are encountering threats to preserved land posed by global warming, as well as proposals to divert preserved land for alternative energy development.
At the same time, we are defending land from threats posed by transmission lines and pipelines, and trying to protect our water resources from natural gas drilling. On the positive side, our work on forest protection and restoration presents an opportunity to promote carbon sequestration.
In recognition of the enormous role energy conservation can play in decreasing energy use, we advocate for a much greater focus on conservation and efficiency in the state's energy master plan.
Read about how "Saving Energy Saves Land" >>
"Energy Efficiency and Economic Opportunity" >>
-American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy
Superstorm Sandy Response
After Superstorm Sandy in October 2012, New Jersey Conservation Foundation began working together with other environmental organizations to advocate for restoration and rebuilding strategies that will leave New Jersey communities more resilient to future storms and sea level rise.
Read more about the concerted efforts of several environmental agencies...
Community Letter_Congressional Funding >>
Community Principles >>
Community Press Release_Sandy Recovery >>
Sandy-related topics featured in Michele Byers' column,
"The State We're In"
Blowin' in the Wind
Slow Moving Waves of Sand (Barrier Islands)
Storms Could Benefit Forest Biodiversity
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