This paper identifies the requirements for "smart" conservation partnerships -- alliances that are necessary and foster cost-effective, durable solutions to key problems. The basic structure and operation of partnerships are discussed, with special attention to the central role of transaction costs in forming and maintaining such alliances. The second section reviews the agricultural conservation policy setting and constructs a concept of policy beyond 2002 based on emerging trends and necessary actions to fill policy gaps. In the third section, the policy implications for building effective public-private conservation partnerships to realize that vision are drawn. A checklist of attributes for "smart" partnerships is offered as a conclusion.