How do you find willing recipients for land that can’t be developed due to jurisdictional wetlands, endangered species habitat, or protection of environmental remedies? The Conservation Conveyance strategy that Marstel-Day developed has been used to successfully convey 80,000 acres of surplus military land to private conservation organizations and public agencies. This concept can be used to help other public agencies and commercial landowners to dispose of unneeded land as well.
The Value Proposition
Conservation Conveyances can help public agencies and private landowners convert surplus land from management obligations in their portfolios to environmental assets for property recipients. Natural land can have significant value to private conservation organizations, public agencies, and the general public. It can provide outdoor recreation and wildlife habitat, protect water resources, improve air quality, offset carbon emissions, and provide scenic vistas. Biologists call these benefits “ecosystem services”, and there is a growing awareness of their value to society and nature.
The DoD Conservation Conveyance statute, Title 10 U.S. Code Section 2694a, protects the natural values of surplus military lands through deeds with perpetual conservation restrictions. But it also makes land attractive to property recipients by allowing them to conduct compatible revenue-generating activities such as wetlands mitigation and conservation banks, eco-tourism, and carbon offset credit production.
The Conceptual Framework
A challenge for the military services and other institutional landowners is to find ways to transfer surplus land that has a “highest and best use” of conservation to organizations with the missions and resources to manage them. Successful conservation conveyances accommodate multiple goals:
- Landholders need assurances that property recipients will manage their land in ways that conserve natural resources, protect sensitive habitat, maintain environmental remedies, and require them to pay reimbursement if the land ceases to be used for conservation purposes.
- Environmental regulators want assurances that future owners will assume all statutory and regulatory obligations that run with the land, that they will manage it for perpetual conservation use, and that there will be no financial incentives for future owners to avoid these obligations.
- Private conservation organizations want the flexibility to acquire conservation sites as interim deed-holders and to re-convey them to public agencies for long-term management.
- Federal, State, and Local Park and Wildlife Management Agencies need time – often more than a year – to perform environmental due diligence analyses and to budget for the operation of new conservation lands, before taking title to them.
How the Conservation Conveyance Concept Works for Surplus Military Property
The conservation conveyance option can be used in the General Services Administration (GSA) property disposal process to dispose of surplus military real property. It may be a good choice if a state or local government cannot acquire land for conservation use through a traditional “public benefit conveyance”, or if the land is not a good candidate for a public sale due to lack of economic development potential.
Eligible recipients under Title 10 USC 2694a include state and local agencies and non-profit conservation organizations. Recipients have the right to re-convey the land to other eligible entities for perpetual conservation use, giving them flexibility in managing their real estate portfolios.
The 1990 BRAC statute delegated GSA’s disposal authority to DoD for BRAC sites, so the military could use the conservation conveyance authority directly for these properties. For non-BRAC disposals, a military department would request a delegation of disposal authority from GSA.
Marstel-Day has the knowledge, experience, and reputation as a trusted advisor to its clients to assist military departments in developing conservation conveyance strategies. We bring extensive experience in working with GSA, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, national conservation organizations, state and local land trusts, and environmental regulators to these tasks. We helped to conceptualize the conservation conveyance statute and we assisted Army in successfully executing two conservation conveyances and other conservation-based disposals totaling 80,000 acres, including two new National Wildlife Refuges.
Applying the Conservation Conveyance Concept to Non-Federal Lands
The conservation conveyance concept also can be applied to non-federal landowners such as airports, utility companies, timber companies, and universities. The heart of this program is based on defining landowners’ real estate disposal goals and establishing communications with conservation stakeholders.
It can be challenging for large landholders to assess the conservation value of their land, to identify conservation organizations interested in acquiring it, and to understand the real estate tools available to convey it for conservation purposes. Marstel-Day excels in these areas. By using our knowledge of conservation and environmental protection practices and our conservation stakeholder contacts, we helped our clients to convey land that had been stuck in the federal disposal process for over a decade.