Land Trusts: What are they?
Land trusts, such as Marin Open Space Trust, is a nonprofit organization that, as all or part of its mission, actively works to conserve land. This is accomplished by undertaking and/or assisting in land or conservation easement acquisition or by stewardship of land or easements.
Are they government agencies?
No, they are independent, entrepreneurial organizations that work with landowners who are interested in protecting open space. But they often work cooperatively with government agencies by acquiring or managing land, researching open space needs and priorities, or assisting in the development of open space plans.
So, what are the advantages of working with a land trust?
Land trusts are very closely tied to the communities in which they operate. Moreover, their nonprofit tax status brings them a variety of tax benefits. Donations of land, conservation easements or money may qualify you for income or gift tax savings. Moreover, because they are private organizations, land trusts can be more flexible and creative than public agencies – and can act more quickly – in saving land.
What does a land trust do?
Local and regional land trusts, organized as charitable organizations under federal tax laws, are directly involved in conserving land for its natural, recreational, scenic, historical and productive values. Land trusts can purchase land for permanent protection, or they may use one of several other methods accept donations of land or the funds to purchase land, accept a bequest, or accept the donation of a conservation easement, which permanently limits the type and scope of development that can take place on the land. In some instances, land trusts also purchase conservation easements.
I first heard about land trusts just a few years ago. Are they new?
Not at all! A very few land trusts have already celebrated their centennials, but most are much younger. In 1950, for example, just 53 land trusts operated in 26 states. Today, more than 1,600 land trusts operate across the country, serving every state in the nation. The Northeast, home of the first land trust, still has the most land trusts – 581, according to the Land Trust Alliance’s most recent National Land Trust Census.
What has contributed to the huge growth in the number of land trusts?
People are tremendously concerned about the unmitigated loss of open space in their own communities. They see subdivisions supplanting the open spaces where they once walked and hiked, and they want to know how they can gain the power to save the green spaces that make their communities unique. So they turn to land trusts as the local entities that have been set up to conserve land.