What’s a Land Trust?
Land trusts are non-profit organizations directly involved in the permanent protection of land and its resources for the public benefit. A trust may operate on a local, state, regional, or national level. On the national level, the best known land trust is The Nature Conservancy. A land trust is the private alternative to land preservation by public agencies or park districts. They give local citizens concerned about open space issues a way to work together to preserve areas important to the community, and landowners interested in protecting their properties options to do so that would otherwise be unavailable.
Land trusts are not “trusts” in the legal sense. Some, in fact, refer to themselves by other names such as conservancies, foundations, or associations. Land trusts accept donations of properties, buy land, or help landowners establish legal restrictions that limit harmful use and development. Land trusts may own and manage properties, monitor the restrictions they have helped establish for land owners, and/or work in partnership with other agencies.
The land trust movement has grown dramatically as more and more people recognize the need to protect lands that are important to them before they are lost forever. Today there are more than 1200 land trusts in America. Combined, their approximately one million members and financial supporters have protected more than 4.7 million acres of land. Beyond this desire to protect land, land trusts vary tremendously. Some concentrate on protecting land that has natural value, some on land with historic value, some on farmland, some on forests, others on scenic viewsheds and so forth. Their area of concern may be as small as a township, a watershed or a specific mountain. Larger land trusts may define their areas of interest by habitat type, county, state, or even national lines.
Land trusts are funded largely through membership dues and/or donations from individuals, businesses, and foundations. Some are run solely by volunteers, others include professional staff. As community organizations, land trusts are responsive to the special needs of the land and people in their regions. As private organizations, land trusts are able to offer quick response, flexibility, and confidentiality in land transactions.