Conservation easements (or conservation covenants) are commonly conceptualized as acquisitions of sticks in a ‘bundle of rights’ and are increasingly implemented for wildlife conservation on private lands. This research asks: (1) What are the possibilities and limitations of the conservation easement approach to wildlife conservation in contrasting rural and periurban regions? and (2) How does analysis of conservation easements differ when examining property as a bundle of rights or alternative metaphors? These questions were addressed through document analysis, interviews and GIS mapping in two regions where The Nature Conservancy deployed conservation easements for wildlife habitat: rural Lassen Foothills and periurban Tenaja Corridor, USA. Splitting the bundle allowed for site and region-specific easements with differences in permitted housing densities, land management and hunting. Easements focused on restricted rights rather than affirmative duties. The challenges of habitat connectivity in the fragmented Tenaja Corridor revealed the limits of parcel-based acquisition. Analysts and conservation practitioners should rethink the bundle of rights concept of property, considering a bundle of duties, powers and owners within a broader web of social and ecological interests, to understand the role of conservation acquisitions in contrasting landscape contexts.