Land protection is a core function of EEA in its mandating legislation, Chapter 21A. Cited as a tool to meeting its mission in seven sections. An important long-term goal of this mission is, preserving natural infrastructure. For example the drinking water filtration that forested lands provide. This reduces the need for costly state and municipal investments in man-made drinking and storm water filtration infrastructure.
Fee Simple Acquisition
One way to protect land is through "fee simple" acquisition by purchasing or accepting the donation of the entire interest in a piece of property. To own land "in fee simple" means to have complete ownership of the land, with all the usual rights associated with ownership.
Conservation Restriction (CR) Acquisition
Another way is purchasing or accepting the donation of a partial interest in a piece of property. A CR (also known as a conservation easement) is a legal agreement between a landowner and a government agency or land trust that permanently protects open space by limiting future uses of the land, usually including the amount and type of development that can take place, but continues to leave the land in private ownership. The document conveys to the agency or land trust the right to monitor the property and enforce the terms of the agreement.
When a landowner sells or donates a CR, s/he can continue to live on or work the land - in accordance with the CR's provisions - and can sell the land or pass it on to heirs. The CR is recorded with the property deed, and the terms of the agreement remain in place on the land even if the land changes ownership. The value of the property has been reduced by this process (by prohibiting development), which may lead to tax benefits. A state law requires the approval by the Secretary of EEA on CR's if they are to be permanent. This sign-off assures there is a public benefit offered by the CR.
Agricultural Preservation Restriction (APR) Acquisition
An agricultural preservation restriction (APR) is a special type of CR. It prohibits non-agricultural, non-open space use or development of a parcel. In order to preserve the land for agricultural purposes.
Land Acquired by EEA Agencies
CRs and APRs are authorized under Sections 31-33 of Chapter 184 of the General Laws of Massachusetts. All land acquired by EEA agencies (either in fee simple or by CR) is protected under Article 97 of the Amendments to the Massachusetts Constitution. Land protected by Article 97 requires a 2/3 vote of the Legislature before it can be disposed of. EEA has a "no net loss" policy with regards to the disposition of any Article 97 protected open space.