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Conserving What? Conservation Easements and Environmental Justice in the Coastal US South

Authors: Levi Van Sant*, George Mason University
Topics: Human-Environment Geography
Keywords: Political Ecology, Environmental Justice, Black Geographies, Plantation, US South
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Recent scholarship shows that conservation easements, an increasingly common form of private land conservation across the US, are the result of a 1980s compromise between non-profit environmental organizations and the Reagan administration’s anti-public lands agenda. Briefly, if a landowner enters a conservation agreement with an NGO or the government they agree to take specific conservation measures in exchange for an income tax credit. Over the past several decades conservation easements have become one of the most common tools to slow land development but recent scholarship shows that, due to the technical details of the enabling legislation, they also disproportionately benefit wealthy landowners (Kay 2016). Yet there has been little analysis of the ways that the growth of conservation easements articulates racial and class politics. Through a case study grounded in coastal Georgia and South Carolina this presentation draws on theories of racial capitalism and Black geographies to (a) show how conservation easements have helped elite whites reproduce plantation landholdings, and (b) articulate alternative notions of property and belonging that might enable a just and sustainable future.

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