Appendix B: Reaching Family Consensus on Conservation Projects

The process of conserving land often depends upon family members developing a shared vision for their land. With a common vision, the conservation process proceeds quickly. In the absence of consensus, the process may bog down. This appendix offers guidance for families that encompass a wide range of perspectives and needs.

There are several common “traps” that can waylay families in their efforts to reach agreement.

Hares and Tortoises

Family members who want the land protected may forge ahead with plans before discussing their vision with others. This strategy may seem efficient at first, but those left out of the loop may later question the conservation plans.

Which Part of the Elephant

Family members may view a property–and its future–from markedly different angles. Like the proverbial blind men, each of whom touches a different part of an elephant but cannot envision the whole, people may see only a single use for the land. One might see it as a wildlife sanctuary, another as an investment to help pay future college expenses.

Flying Solo

A family may undertake a project with great enthusiasm but inadequate information. If they neglect to get advice concerning conservation methods or financial planning, they may learn about unforeseen tax and legal issues late in the process and be bounced back to square one.

Laying the Groundwork for Agreement

These and other pitfalls can be avoided if family members are sensitive to the decision-making process. The following ideas may help family members reach consensus. More ideas for reaching agreement are contained in MCHT’s Technical Bulletin #114 (free upon request).

Successful conservation planning hinges on good communication. Early in the process, talk with other family members individually about their interest in the property. Try not to react to their views; keep asking questions. Remember that you can acknowledge their views without agreeing with them. Talking with individuals early on will give you a sense of how much common ground there is and how much time and work may be needed to reach consensus.

After individual meetings, you may want to hold one (or more) family meetings to discuss the property’s future. Plan to distribute an agenda beforehand. Having a written agenda may seem formal for a family gathering, but it will help everyone stay focused. In setting up the agenda, put easier topics first. If people can agree on those items, they will feel more confident as they begin discussing more complex issues.

Choose a time and place where your family can concentrate on the task (just before the annual picnic might not be the best time). You may want to consider inviting someone well-versed in the methods of land conservation. Often a land trust member can outline options for protection and help answer questions.