Sustaining land and people over time: relationships with successor landowners on conservation easements.
Conservation is increasingly recognized and funded on private lands. Making conservation last despite turnover in people requires maintaining social relationships. For example, conservation easements (CEs), also called conservation covenants, are legal agreements for private land conservation typically expected to last in perpetuity, yet their public benefits depend on successor landowners. We focus on the social relations in stewarding lands held by successor landowners who purchased or inherited a property after the conservation agreement was in place. We conducted 38 semi-structured interviews with key informants, conservation organization staff and successors who own conserved properties in Wisconsin, USA. These interviews revealed the importance of the relationship between conservation organization staff and landowners and the roles of trust, shared goals, meaning-making and power. These social relationships can influence the land management choices of landowners and compliance enforcement approaches of conservation organizations. In light of these findings, policymakers and professionals should consider rapid outreach to new owners of conserved properties and greater investments in landowner relationships to build multiple dimensions of trust, connect on shared goals and help landowners find positive meaning in conservation agreements. We recommend documenting these personal dimensions of conservation for future staff, whose effectiveness in the field depends on their ability to make conservation policy salient for particular people and places.