A land trust is a nonprofit organization governed by citizens concerned with the need to conserve open space -- undeveloped lands with significant ecological, scenic, recreational, agricultural, cultural or historic values -- within their community.
Land trusts have been active in the United States since the 19th century. In fact, land trusts represent the fastest-growing conservation movement in the United States, having assisted in the preservation of millions of acres of open space from Maine to California and Minnesota to Texas.
Land trusts range from small groups of volunteers to large organizations managed by professional staff. Some land trusts own and manage land, while others work with private landowners to monitor and enforce the provisions of conservation easements they helped put in place.
A land trust is run by people who understand what's important in their community. When a landowner wants to turn his or her personal love of their piece of land into a commitment to protect that land, they would ask a local land trust for help in achieving that goal. Land trust staff and volunteers bring a variety of skills to the table. They are involved in real estate, ecology, education, communications, fundraising and management of nonprofit organizations. What these conservation folks at the land trust have in common is an abiding interest in protecting natural resources and preserving the natural heritage of their communities. Some of the most committed people behind a land trust are the landowners themselves. They care about protecting their land and want to leave a legacy for future generations. They know and trust that their partnership with a land trust is the key to ensuring that legacy.
Local and regional land trusts promote a variety of land conservation options which can provide permanent protection for properties that fit the criteria for preservation. Most often, these options target the protection of land and water resources with significant natural, recreational, scenic, historic or productive value. For conservation-minded landowners, such protection strategies are both practical and essential to preserving their lands. A landowner may choose to donate or sell property to a land trust to ensure permanent protection, or they may choose to donate a conservation easement over the property and retain ownership of the lands.
A conservation easement voluntarily places protective restrictions on the present and future uses while the landowner continues to use the land. The lands might only be for the use of the landowner, or the landowner may choose to grant limited access to the public; it all depends on the interests and desires of that private landowner. In all cases, the land trust and landowner work together to create a protection strategy that meets the conservation needs of the land as well as the financial needs of the landowner.
Properties protected by land trusts are everywhere... precious prairie habitat...productive farmland...properties with scenic values...working ranches and forest lands...trails maintained for hikers to enjoy. Conservation easements guarantee that such resources are protected and preserved for generations to come. It should come as no surprise; people who love the land have always found a way to preserve nature's treasures. Now, more than ever, they can turn to a land trust to achieve that enduring legacy of natural, open space and working lands in our communities.