Sunday, 19 May 2024

Governor signs Wiggins bill expanding use of conservation easements

SACRAMENTO – Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed Senate Bill 1431, legislation by Sen. Patricia Wiggins (D-Santa Rosa) enabling the state Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) to expand the use of conservation easements to protect state parklands.


A conservation easement is a voluntary transfer of usage rights creating a legally enforceable land preservation agreement between the landowner and the entity holding the easement. The purpose of a conservation easement is to protect land and resources by separating the right to subdivide and build on the property from other rights of ownership.


The easement might also limit commercial and industrial uses and certain other activities on a property to a mutually agreed upon level. The landowner voluntarily agrees to contribute to the public good by preserving the conservation values on the property, and the easement holder has responsibility for monitoring future uses of the land to ensure compliance with the terms of the easement.


“As the population of our state continues to grow, and urban growth expands into previously undeveloped areas, additional pressures are being placed on the resources of the state parks system,” Wiggins said.


“DPR is authorized to purchase land for the purpose of protecting parks from development and other impending threats, but this solution is not always economically feasible,” Wiggins added. “An easement is a good tool for the department to use to preserve the state park system; it costs less, and also allows the land to remain in the hands of the private land owner. Further, it defends the land from incompatible use issues, and it relieves the department from incurring maintenance costs."


SB 1431 clarifies that DPR is allowed to acquire a conservation easement if the department determines that it is necessary to protect a unit of the state park system from an incompatible use or to preserve and enhance the natural resource, cultural, or historic value of a state park unit.


The bill also enables DPR to make grants to a state or local government agency, or a nonprofit, to purchase and hold a conservation easement with funds that have been appropriated to the department for land acquisitions. Grant recipients would be required to monitor and enforce the easement and agree to restrict the use of the land in perpetuity.


Assemblymember Patty Berg (D-Eureka) is a co-author of the Wiggins bill.


Wiggins represents California’s Second Senate District, which includes parts or all of six counties: Humboldt, Lake, Mendocino, Napa, Solano and Sonoma. Visit her Web site at http://dist02.casen.govoffice.com.


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