“We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.” – Aldo Leopold

What is a Land Trust?

A land trust is a nonprofit organization that works closely with landowners and community members to help conserve land. They are often community-based and place great focus on preserving land for future generations.

There are two main types of land trusts: community land trusts and conservation land trusts. A community land trust is used to benefit a specific community and typically provides affordable access to land and housing for community members. Conservation land trusts endeavor to protect the land’s environmental assets, such as a sensitive ecosystem or rich soil to be used for agriculture.

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Both types of trusts promote land stewardship practices and have a common mission to pass land down to the next generation. They often assist landowners with the acquisition of a conservation or land easement. Simply put, these easements are put into place to limit the use of land for a specific cause.

Most Easements are perpetual and cannot easily be terminated. Once signed, an easement becomes part of the property record. It is very difficult to dissolve an easement once it is established. In very special circumstances, a judge can extinguish an easement. An easement can also be voided by the power of imminent domain, which means the land is needed for public purposes like a road or power line.

How Does it Work?

The ultimate goal of a land trust is to conserve land and success relies heavily on the cooperation and relationship with landowners. A land trust provides the tools necessary to help landowners protect their land so future generations can enjoy it. It is important to note that a land trust does not regulate land use. As stated earlier, one of the primary purposes of a land trust is to assist landowners with the acquisition of an easement.

Relating specifically to the conservation of farm land, farmers are able to obtain agricultural easements, which are essentially estate planning tools that farmers can use to preserve the family farm for future generations. Farmers are still able to sell their farm after placing an agricultural easement on it. They are also able to will the farm to children and grandchildren, as well as change the type of farming performed on the land. The land just cannot be converted for non-agricultural use.

Both agricultural and conservation easements are relatively flexible tools. The restrictions vary from easement to easement, depending upon the landowner’s needs. Regardless of the type of easement, land trusts assure that the conservation values of the property will be protected. Land trusts have been around for quite some time and they continue to grow in popularity.

Land trusts aid in the protection of natural resources and play important in preserving our precious farmland, ultimately sustaining agriculture and providing food for all!

Preserving the Land, One Acre at a Time

According to the Land Trust Alliance, there are more than 1,700 conservation and community land trusts in the United States. Together, they have helped to conserve 37 million acres of land! Here are some of the country’s most active and successful conservation land trusts.

Tug Hill Tomorrow Land Trust is located in Watertown, New York. Since 1991, they have conserved more than 7,000 acres and helped to ensure permanent protection of many local farms. One of these farms is owned by brothers Henry and Charles Parry. In collaboration with the Tug Hill Tomorrow Land Trust, the brothers have established the Parry Easement to protect their 440-acre farm established in 1901.

Mississippi Valley Conservancy is a land trust located in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Since the land trust was founded in 1997, they have been able to successfully conserve more than 15,000 acres of land and water throughout­­ southwestern Wisconsin.

The Tennessee River Gorge Trust in Chattanooga, Tennessee, has helped preserve more than 17,000 acres of the Tennessee River Gorge. They have a strong focus on community engagement, education and land stewardship.

Sonoma Land Trust, located in Santa Rosa, California, works to conserve natural and agricultural land in Sonoma County. They focus on the development of long term protection strategies and the acquisition of easements. To date, they have protected more than 48,000 acres of land throughout Sonoma County.

Oregon Sustainable Agriculture Land Trust (OSALT) is located in Canby, Oregon. This organization primarily focuses on the conservation of urban and rural agricultural land. They strive to educate and increase appreciation for agriculture.

Do you know of any great land trusts in your community? Please share their story in the comments below!

Click here to locate a land trust nearest you.