Land Trust

Help Conserve Our Land and Natural Resources

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The purpose behind this site is to help preserve our land. If you have any suggestions, additions, or changes please feel free to make suggestions.

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Paradise Lost

Act 1, Scene 1

Looking back I could not have known how lucky I was to be raised in a small Oregon town. We had horses, land, beautiful green trees, big clean rivers, wheat fields, orchards, foxes, deer, good neighbors, and not too many people. All anyone could want really. As I child I also could not know what the first housing developments meant.

Act 1, Scene 2

Eventually I ended up working in Silicon Valley. I had not gone home in many years.

Act 2, Scene 1

There's a feeling like no other. To go home and find the fields where we once rode horses covered lot to lot with executive homes. To go home and find the artesian well we once drank from on hot days covered, covered so yet another useless green lawn won't flood. To go home and find the cherry tree and blackberries we so loved raped by a bulldozer. To go home and find the heart of a little town now just another suburb whore. Yes, a feeling like no other...

Act 2, Scene 2

I now live in Sunnyvale CA. Certainly not the most bucolic of areas, but it's not yet a cement fortress either. Old timers told us of the cherry orchards that once stood where we now live. How their children used to play in the creek where now a freeway runs. And there were enough small plots of land scattered around to give an illusion of "the land."

Lately though the "executive house" fairy raised her magic wand and now every plot of land is having $400,000 executive homes erected on them. For those that don't know, these are large homes with almost no yard, arranged asshole to belly button, where privacy is having your drapes closed. I wonder where will the kids play. Where are the trees to climb. The horses to ride and feed. The barns to clean.

Act 3

We're writing this act now...

What to do?

My guess is my story is not unique, nor the worst. The first question that usually comes to mind is just what the hell can we do?
  • Killing selected developers and politicians is not a widely accepted answer.
  • Get involved in politics and land use issues.
  • A good answer, and the one covered by this page, is to convert at risk land to a land trust.

What is a Land Trust?

Land Trusts are local, regional, or statewide nonprofit conservation organizations directly involved in helping protect natural, scenic, recreational, agricultural, historic, or cultural property. Land trusts work to preserve open land that is important to the communities and regions where they operate. Land trusts respond rapidly to conservation needs and operate in cities, rural, and suburban areas.

Land trusts now operate in every state in the nation protecting land of local, regional, and national importance.

Collectively, America's nearly 900 independent land trusts:

  • helped protect 2.7 million acres
  • own 437,000 acres
  • hold conservation easements on another 450,000 acres
  • have acquired, protected, and transfered 668,000 acres to other organizations and agencies
  • have used other direct methods to help protect another 1,159,000 acres
Well known areas protected by land trusts include land on the California coast at Big Sur; in the San Juan Islands, Washington State; at Jackson Hole, Wyoming; along the Appalachian Trail; in New York's Adirondacks; and at Acadia National Park in Maine.

How a Land Trust Works

Land trusts:
  • Purchase land
  • Acquire land through donations
  • Secure conservation easements on land and monitor the terms of these easements
  • Work in partnership with private and governmental conservation agencies

Land trusts vary greatly in size. Over half are completely volunteer, others have only a director or one or more part-time staff members, a few have a large staff, prominent board of directors and a large membership. Annual budgets range from under $10,000 to over $1 million. 32% operate with budgets of $100,000 or more.

84% of all land trusts accept land donations. 75% accept conservation easements. In both instances donors can receive significant tax benefits based on the value of the donated land or easement.

63% of land trusts buy land for conservation. 70% of the funds for purchases come from contributions from members and individual donors in the community. Other finds come from government agencies, foundations, and corporations. Land trusts also borrow money from banks, foundations, and individuals to buy land. Loans are repaid either through fund raising, sales to conservation buyers or, in the case of advance acquisitions for local, state or federal conservation agencies, when public funds are available and the property is repurchased by the government.

Although independent, land trusts frequently work with each other, with national conservation organizations, and with government agencies on important projects.

Land Trusts Increasing as Land Decreases

Land trusts in the US have been increasing at 23% a year or one per week. Even more are needed as we are losing land at 3,000 acres per day!

More than half of the nearly 2,000 land trusts in the United States have been formed within the past 15 years.

In 1950 there were 53 trusts in 26 states; 132 by 1965. During the next decade the number doubled, passing the 300 mark by 1995. By 1980 the number was 429. By the end of 1990 the number of land trusts soared to 889 with a combined membership of over 750,000. Today land trusts operate in all 50 states, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. The greatest growth in recent years has been on the west coast, the northeast, and the mid-Atlantic region. California has the highest number of trusts in the west, 76. Massachusetts with 116 has the highest number in the northeast, followed by Connecticut with 114 and New York with 59. Pennsylvania leads the mid-Atlantic with 38 followed by Maryland with 34 land trusts.

Protect What?

  • scenic vistas
  • streams
  • old forest stand
  • wetlands
  • deserts
  • city parks
  • greenways
  • farmland
  • and more ...

A Little History

In the mid 1800's many "village improvement societies" formed in New England to "improve the quality fo life and of the environment." These small nonprofit organizations were the forerunners of today's land trust movement.

A few years later, 1891, the Massachusetts legislature incorperated The Trustees of Reservations to protect the jewels of the living landscape . The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, with similar purposes, was formed in 1901. Today, both organizations are among the nation's leading state conservation groups.

Not all the pioneers were in the northeast. At the turn of the century, a group of Californians organized the Sempervirens CLub with the slogan "Save the Redwoods." Other organizations that operated in part like land trusts include the Cincinnati Museum of Natural History, founded in 1800; the Maine Audubon Society, founded in 1843; and the Ogio Historical Society, formed in 1885 to preserve the state's historical and archeological sites.

Land Trusts in Action

In the article How to Start Your Own Land Trust by Marinnette Mitais in the summer 1995 edition of Back Home magazine relates the following example of how a land trust can work:
Here's an illustration of how our local conservancy worked with governmental and conservation agencies. Recently we were instrumental in negotiating a purchase that protects a 1,700-acre tract of land in our county, an accomplishment we lacked the means to do on our own. We first turned to the Trust for Public Land, headquartered in San Francisco. They asked for information about the land and a survey of community interest. This we provided, and then we passed the baton. The Trust for Public Land purchased the property with the intention to sell it back to a conservation organization that had funds enough to manage it. This is indeed what happened when the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission came into the picture and bought the tract.

This chain of events started with a simple phone call from someone who had seen a beautiful piece of land and thought, What can I do to ensure that it is protected? This is an example of one person's ability to make a difference.

Land Purchase

The trust buys the land. Most land trusts don't have enough money to buy land outright. Some trusts, like Nature Conservancy get money donations and buy lots of land.

Land Donations

Some people who love their land donate their land to a trust as a protection method. You may be surprised that provisions in your will may not be sufficient protection. We had a neighbor, an old logger from Denmark, who had a dream of his gorgeous tree covered land becoming a park. After is death his greedy children broke non-sale provisions in his will and where there was once a could-have-been park is now another housing development.

Nobody cares about your land as much as you do, especially when money is involved. Save it now.

Life Estates

A life estate is a legal instrument through which a property owner donates land to a land trust after they die, while retaining the right to live on the property for the remainder of their life.

Limited Development

Limited development is tradeoff usually forced by economic hardship. A landowner agrees to develop part of the land if the rest is protected.

Conservation Easements

My handy dandy 8 inch thick law dictionary defines an easement as:
    A right of use over the property of another.
A conservation easement is a legal document listing a number of restrictions a landowner wishes to place on their land. You may, for example, restrict subdividing your property or oil drilling. The document becomes part of the deed and is recorded in the county registry. When the land changes hands the new owner is bound by the terms of the easement, meaning the wishes of the original land owner are respected.

An easement may confer federal and state income tax advantages. If property appreciates greatly heirs may not be able to pay the taxes. A conservation easement on land may reduce a properties value and thus reduce estate taxes allowing heirs to keep the property.

Setting Up Your Own Land Trust

These steps are summarized from Marinnette Mitais' Back Home article. At some later time I'll try and get permission for a full quotation.
  • Gather Resources
  • Gather Your Friends
  • Select Board of Directors
  • Create a Mission Statement
  • Apply to the IRS for non-profit Status
  • Natural Resources Census
  • Create Community Awareness
  • Remember Why You are Doing It

The Coming of Tokyo Prime

Consider the whole earth hostile territory. How do we survive in hostile territory? We cooperate. We send out small groups to conquer an area and make it safe for human occupation. Once conquered we construct bases, islands of safe harbour for humans. Because of the safety and opportunity more people come. The more people there are the more a settlement can support even more people. The new people grow the initial region growth ring by growth ring. Growth does not stop until we run out of people, or we reach natural barriers, or the area is not capable of sustaining people at an acceptable level. Look around you. Look at history. It is so.

As barriers are reached new parties embark colonizing new lands. The process repeats itself. It is self-reinforcing. The more people the more settlements required. On a map it would look like a great web of interlinked circles. The first circle starts, say someplace in Africa. The circle survives because some people hunt, some gather, some protect, some heal, some cook, some lead, some follow, some procreate. We cooperate, we reciprocate.

In time because of environmental limitations or wanderlust a circle breaks off settling another area setting up their own circle of human life. The two circles can now trade. Risk is spread and the chance for species survival is enhanced. Each circle repeats the processs until now there is no place we fear to tread. From simple cells to humans. From tiny settlements in Africa to the whole world. We grow. We expand.

From our other great ability, intelligence, comes technology. As technology increases new areas become easier and easier to settle. More marginal areas become attractive because we are less dependent on the local area for survival.

Expansion is not wrong. Technology is not wrong. The problem is that there is no natural stopping condition constraining colonization. Technology will eventually equalize all marginal areas. The population shows no signs of reducing so new colonization will continue. At each colonization point the decision will be do we branch out or not? The answer is always yes because humans are valued over other parts of nature.

Project out. In the end the earth will be one city, Tokyo Prime. The final circle will link completing the web. At that point we may do something, but it will be too late to preserve what we already have. Since we can see the future clearly it makes sense to do the something now. Is this not the rational thing to do? Some will say we have more land, more resources why limit ourselves? True for this generation. Probably the next. And the next after that. But some generation will hit the wall.

Why not act now?


Land Trust Alliance (LTA)

What is it?

LTA was formed in 1982 by four of the nation's leading land trusts to increase the effectiveness of the many diverse, independent, and geographically widespread land trusts. LTA has become the umbrella group for the land trust movement.

The Alliance not only provides a broad range of services from insurance to training aimed at helping to strengthen individual land trusts, but also acts as the voice for land trusts in Washington. The Alliance focuses on public policy issues of direct interest to land trusts, playing both an educational and an advocacy role.

The Alliance also publishes Exchange the only professional journal for land trusts and serves as an information source about land trusts for journalists and the public. With Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco, the Alliance established in 1990 the Land Conservation Law institute to provide legal information to land trusts and attorneys. The Alliance also organizes the national land trust Rally every 18 months, now the largest land conservation conference in North America.

Options for Joining

  • Sponsors: land trusts can join LTA as Sponsors, receiving full benefits. Dues are based on operating expenses (min $150; max $1,500).
  • Supporters: other organizations can join as Supporters for $150.
  • Land Savors: individuals can join as Land Savers for $35 (it's not clear if picking your own flavor costs more).
  • Land Protectors: individuals can join for $100 as Land Protectors
  • Land Conservators: individuals can join for $500 as Land Conservators
  • Trustees of the Land: individuals can join for $1000+ as Trustees of the Land

Contact Information

1319 F Street NW, Suite 501 
Washington, DC 20004-1106 
Fax: 202.638.4730

Trust for Public Land (TPL)

A great source of information and help. Much of what is on this page comes from Trust for Public Land.

What is it?

Founded in 1973, the Trust for Public Land (TPL) works to conserve land for people. Working with citizen's groups and public agencies, TPL helps communities protect land for the public to enjoy as parks, open space, community gardens, recreation areas and places important to America's cultural and historic heritage.

TPL conserves landscapes as diverse as the American People. TPL has helped protect over 700,000 acres of land for the public in over 1000 conservation projects. Working with land trusts nationwide, TPL has helped communities explore, plan and implement innovative land protection initiatives. TPL has worked with over 400 land trusts and community groups.

Options for Joining

  • Associate: $35
  • Sustainer: $50
  • Park Provider: $100
  • Park Partner: $250
  • Other: open

Contact Information

116 New Montgomery St.
Fourth Floor
San Francisco, CA 94105

American Community Gardening Association

Promotes the growth of community gardening.

100 N. 20th Street, 5th Floor
Philadelphia, PA 19103-1495

(215) 988-8785
FAX (215)988-8810

email: [email protected]

Land Trust Email List

I've started a landtrust email list that currently is hosted at yahoo. Hopefully the email list will be a place where people can ask questions and get support. See ya there!
  1. You can subscribe to the email list by going to
  2. Once joined you can email in questions, comments, or announcements by emailing to [email protected].