Events and Programs



Innovating: Insuring Permanence in Land Conservation (literally!)

Jessica publishes extensively on land conservation law topics, and her seminal research and publication of approaches to land trust risk management nearly two decades ago provided the impetus for creation of the Terrafirma Risk Retention Group LLC insurance service, led and designed by the Land Trust Alliance to provide defense and enforcement resources for land trusts owning land and holding perpetual conservation easements.

Terrafirma Insurance Press Release

The birth of Terrafirma is an historic moment for land conservation and is a creative response to a big national problem. In the late 1990s, Colorado Open Lands staff starting asking a question that ultimately led to the creation of a new tool to help land trusts to protect their conserved lands forever.

How, they wondered, would they handle enforcement actions on their easements? “It wasn’t any particular problem we ran into,” recalls Dan Pike, with Colorado Open Lands. “We just started asking what we would do if we ever had to go to court on our easements. And honestly, we didn’t have a good answer.” Contributing to the sense of urgency was a well-publicized case in which the French and Pickering Conservation Trust had incurred $125,000 in legal fees defending an easement.

“It was scary” said Pike of the French and Pickering case, “Those numbers just shocked everybody.” Pike asked Jessica Jay, then a first-year associate at a Denver law firm, to research easement enforcement options. “I went into it looking for a silver bullet,” recalls Jay. “And I came back to Dan with 18 options, half of which involved insurance.” While Pike was less interested in insurance for Colorado Open Lands, Jay was captivated by the larger possibilities. “I realized that if land trusts approached the issue as a community we’d have a critical mass to create our own insurance - something that worked for land trusts and their unique needs.”  Jay’s report -published in 1999 -made the rounds of the land trust community . . . and the rest is history.

Looking to the New Frontiers in Land Conservation:  Community Conservation, Redevelopment, and Undevelopment

Like the mantra of Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle, Jessica identifies the mantra for the new frontiers of land protection to be Conserve, Redevelop, and Undevelop. She anoints land trusts as the new social entrepreneurs shepherding the movement from large-scale, raw land protection to small-scale, community-based, interconnected re-purposing of land and its uses.

Jessica is currently collaborating with land trusts to: (1) work within and develop new legal, practical, and functional frameworks to conserve, create, and interconnect people and parcels of land for public parks, community gardens, cooperative farms, and public forests; (2) redevelop, re-imagine, and reinvent the already-built environment for new public purposes such as affordable housing, recreation, and community places; and (3) undevelop, recover, and restore developed, degraded, or polluted lands to support revitalized ecological and human systems. Jessica and several land trusts are also collaborating to provide financial, legal, and regulatory guidance for land trusts endeavoring projects on the new frontiers.

Current Projects, Research, and Guidance

Jessica is currently researching how to inspire and incentivize new farmers' access to and use of conserved lands, and directing focus to what she has dubbed the New Frontiers of Land Conservation through Community Conservation, Redevelopment, and Undevelopment.  Jessica also guides conservation professionals, easement holders, and landowners in national workshops, and teaches the next generation of land conservationists in land conservation law courses at Vermont Law School and University of Denver's Sturm College of Law, for which courses she has authored the textbook, role play exercises, and distance learning course.

Recently Published:
  • Land Conservation Law Textbook, Vermont Law School/Land Trust Alliance, 2016
  • Land Conservation Law Reader, Environmental Law Institute, 2017