A History of Conservation Easements
Have you ever wondered how easement agreements began in Canada? Why did they emerge and what events propelled them into legislation? Well, the simple answer is Canada has a long history working towards land preservation. The Farmland Easement Agreement, used by the Ontario Farmland Trust (OFT), is one type of conservation easement (CE) instrument available to protect land and resources in Canada and elsewhere.
The first known common-law concept of easements was established in Britain in the late 1800’s, making its way to Canada soon after. A small group of Canadian naturalists pursued specific policy to protect land from industrial, urban, and even agricultural development at that time. The initial driver for protecting land was public enjoyment in the form of bird watching sanctuaries, recreational activities, and/or preserving natural history. Canada witnessed its first significant land protection agreement with the establishment of the Banff National Park (1885) and the Algonquin Park (1893).
In June, 1988, Ontario enacted legislation known as the Conservation Land Act to enable land trusts and other conservation charities to hold conservation easements. Before this, only government agencies could legally hold easements on land other than adjacent properties in their full title ownership. This created broader protection capacity for land trusts and conservation charities to protect significant lands and values. Initially, the Act included the conservation, maintenance, restoration, or enhancement of all or a portion of the land or the wildlife on the land. The Act has been amended multiple times since its introduction, including in 1990 when it became the Conservation Land Act, 1990 referred to today and in 2005 to include the protection of land for agricultural purposes.
Currently, Canada is home to several community-based land trusts and alliances, with the highest numbers in Ontario, British Columbia, and Quebec. Conservation easements are also used in the USA by land trusts and government agencies to protect agricultural lands. With the support of land trusts like OFT, protecting farmland is now possible after 100+ years of conservation efforts in Canada.
By: Elyssa Pompa
MES and Food System Planner Candidate | York University, Faculty of Environmental Studies
Reference: Conservation Land Act 1990, https://www.ontario.ca/laws/statute/90c28