What Is Monitoring And Why Do We Do It?
The Texas Agricultural Land Trust (TALT) currently holds conservation easements on over 128,000 acres of land throughout Texas. When TALT accepts a conservation easement, it commits to perpetual stewardship of the eased land.
This means the Texas Agricultural Land Trust has an ongoing obligation to regularly monitor its easements and to enforce easement terms if they are violated. TALT is committed to sharing monitoring results with landowners and discussing action that might be needed to avoid any potential violations of the conservation agreement.
The purpose of monitoring is to confirm that the terms of the conservation easement agreement between the landowner and the Texas Agricultural Land Trust are being fulfilled.
For example, if the landowner agreed to only construct agricultural structures within a certain area of the farm or ranch, TALT will make certain no prohibited construction is taking place. Or, if the easement prohibits paving unpaved roads we confirm that roads have not been paved.
TALT is committed to developing and nurturing a cooperative partnership with our landowners and others involved with ensuring that terms of the conservation easement are observed. Each monitoring visit:
- provides a valuable opportunity to foster a stronger relationship with the land owner and to create an ongoing spirit of cooperation;
- reinforces the collaborative partnership between the owner and the Texas Agricultural Land Trust as they uphold the easement terms;
- gives the landowner names and faces to associate with the legal terms and agreements included in the deed;
- provides the landowner with easy access to someone who can answer questions about the easement;
- fosters a spirit of teamwork with the landowner, their families and others involved with managing and caring for the land; and
- helps everyone involved to avoid violating terms of the written agreement.
During the monitoring process, TALT will:
- take pictures from established baseline monitoring photo points to document the condition of the farm and ranch land and provide a running record of the ranch’s landscape over time;
- complete a written checklist of their observations of the farm or ranch; and
- review the photographs and written field notes to document evidence of both positive and/or negative trends on the ranch.
Recently, some land trusts have been criticized on a national level for not fulfilling their functions as responsible tax-exempt organizations. Ongoing monitoring helps to establish the Texas Agricultural Land Trust as a responsible nonprofit organization while also strengthening their personal and working relationship with easement donors.
If monitors observe evidence of a negative trend, TALT staff will:
- sit down with the landowner to discuss the situation and suggest an action plan for avoiding a costly violation;
- work with the landowner to amicably resolve the challenge;
- inform landowner that evidence of the violation will have to be included in the annual monitoring report if the matter is not addressed appropriately within a specified time frame; and
- include documentation of the violation in the annual monitoring report if the action plan is not followed to be prepared if the situation should ever have to be resolved with litigation.
The Texas Agricultural Land Trust is proud of its strong stewardship policy and is committed to regularly monitoring every easement it holds. Working together, TALT and the landowners who entrust them with their easements will create mutually agreeable plans to help them both fulfill their obligations and reach their individual property management goals.
NOTE: The Texas Agricultural Land Trust extends our gratitude to the California Rangeland Trust for granting permission to adapt the above information from their website, www.rangelandtrust.org September 2008.