Conservation Authorities Want Title to Your Land

Conservation Authorities (CA) want your land and they have a number of strategies to acquire title to it.

In our August newsletter, we wrote about Ontario Farmland Trust and their Farmland Forever funding campaign, a clever scheme to convince farmers that their land would be forever preserved and used for agriculture if only it was turned over to a Conservation Authority. Our question at that time was “when was the last time you caught a conservation authority protecting farmland?”

There are many schemes and strategies by which Conservation Authorities seek to gain title to your land. One of the recent schemes we have come across is called the “land securement strategy”. The Nottawasaga Valley Conservation Authority, for example, in their Land Securement Strategy document, January 2007 states the following:

Under this project there are two primary ways of protecting environmentally significant lands; holding title (fee simple) or holding rights on the land (easements, covenants, lease agreements). The following provides a brief overview of these securement tools.

4.1 Fee Simple
This method is the purchase or donation of the total interest in a property and is the most effective way for the protection of greenspace. In this situation, the landowner (i.e. NVCA) has total control of the management and rights of the property.

4.2 Conservation Agreements
Conservation agreements are legally binding agreements registered on title, whereby the
landowner transfers specific rights, such as the ability to create building lots or cut trees, to an easement holder such as a conservation authority. Depending on how the agreement is set-up, the easement holder usually has the right and responsibility to monitor the property (thus the term “easement”) and ensure that the terms of the conservation agreement are being respected. If no easement is granted under the agreement, the agreement can be referred to as simply a “restrictive covenant”.

Conservation easement agreements can be an effective tool for protecting the conservation values of a property because they contain negative or restrictive covenants. The goal is usually to prevent the destruction of a resource on a particular property. The rights to the uses of a property (i.e. subdivision rights, development rights, tree cutting rights) can be donated or purchased from the landowner however it is more common to have conservation easements donated. Conservation easements can provide for the protection of a resource, trail construction, and construction and maintenance of rehabilitation works.

The document goes on to describe how, as an alternative to outright land acquisition, the CA works with the municipality through the Planning Act to identify environmentally significant lands “the opportunity to acquire some of these lands may arise from time to time”.

We were able to find similar plans and strategies, for example, the Greenlands Securement Strategy in the Halton Region and in the Essex Region Land Securement Strategy.

The master plan for land securement of course comes from the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR). Options for land securement (translation: acquiring private property) are spelled out on their website Although they clearly state that they are “directly responsible for managing Crown land”, they go on to say that “about 13% of the land in Ontario, mostly in the southern part of the province, is privately owned. The Ministry works closely with partners to conserve and protect provincially significant natural features on private land through a variety of initiatives, including land securement.” In other words, they are not content with the 87% they currently control. They want it all.