Private land conservation is becoming a popular policy approach, given the constraints of increasing public protected areas, which include reduced availability of land for purchase, insufficient budgets for acquisition, and escalating management costs of small, isolated reserves. Conservation covenants represent a common policy instrument, now prominent in the United States, Canada and Australia, employed to compliment the protected area network. When ‘topsoil’ and subsoil, or ‘mineral’ use rights are decoupled, however, the security of covenants can become threatened if the country’s economic policies take priority over conservation policies and mining is permitted where covenants exist. We discuss this issue on a theoretical level, examining four potential scenarios in which use rights are decoupled or coupled. We demonstrate that decoupled use rights can create an imbalance in the costs and benefits, to landholders and the government, from conservation and mining activities on private properties. We then present a case study in Queensland, Australia, in which the discrepancy of biodiversity and mining policies is directly threatening the ecological outcomes of conservation covenants on private land. We also reflect on our own personal research with landholders in Queensland to highlight the social consequences of such a policy position on the ability of State and Federal Governments to meet their policy commitments. The conflicts we identify can be used to improve the transparency of private land conservation.