Letter: Easements can adjust to uncertain futures

I don’t know what prompted Mike Massie’s op-ed diatribe about conservation easements in your March 4 issue. But I do know that I wish you had chosen to run a parallel piece from a different point of view. Perhaps this letter will help.

My wife and I are easement donors. I have given serious thought to easement issues over the last 50 years.

Mr. Massie is correct to point out that there is no ultimate guarantee about the future of conservation easements. Many of my presentations about easements to county landowners have included warnings that easement futures depend on continuation of the U. S. Constitution — meaning that, should we be taken over by the Taliban or some similar group, all bets are off (probably including many rights of land ownership).

Because of vagueness in old language, and concern that because of that some court might improperly interpret our intent, we amended our easement in 2004, to clarify its provisions. As now written, it sets forth clear procedures for timber operations, plus specifically allows “agriculture, viticulture, aquaculture, silviculture, horticulture and equine activities,” as well as “seasonal outdoor activities that do not permanently alter the physical appearance of the property.” So, disregard Mr. Massie’s fear-mongering; we have continuing rights to farm and hunt. (In devising a conservation easement, it is important to be precise about what is and is not allowed to happen on the land.)

Perhaps Mr. Massie wrote his piece because of concern about tightening regulations aimed at heading off environmental pollution. I think some regulations will be tightened. But they have nothing to do with easements. I can and will live with tighter regulations. The primary purpose of our easement was to assure that our land won’t go the way of Fairfax County or Manassas; I also don’t want to see the agricultural industry accidentally destroy the fishing industry.

Robert T. Dennis
Flint Hill

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