In 1976, Ben Emory, new director of the Maine Coast Heritage Trust, had begun to call on Boston lawyer Kingsbury Browne for advice on federal tax issues related to conservation easements. Emory recruited a handful of other land trusts as clients for Browne’s periodic tax letters, and a small communications network of land trusts evolved.
When Congress considered new legislation relating to tax deductibility of easements, the Brandywine Conservancy, led by Bill Sellers, convened land trusts using easements in December 1979. Browne invited the undersecretary of the Treasury for tax policy, who brought IRS staff Stephen Small. The land trusts agreed to hire lobbyists and coordinate efforts to influence the legislation, winning expansion of the conservation purposes for which easements would qualify for deductibility.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, the Trust for Public Land sponsored a small gathering in San Francisco of established and newly forming Western land trusts in February 1978.
By 1980, more than 400 local and regional land trusts existed, most still in the Northeast, three-fourths with no paid staff, and half with annual budgets under $50,000. The majority of land was protected by fee ownership, but the use of conservation easements was growing.
Then influences converged: the geographic spread resulting in isolation of newer land trusts; recognition of the difficulty of influencing vital legislation; and the growing engagement of Kingsbury Browne in land conservation, leading to his desire to learn about land trusts across the country. A movement was about to be born.