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Terrafirma About to Take Flight

Land Trust Alliance | September 19, 2012 | Washington, D.C.

This new conservation defense insurance service for land trusts is absolutely transformational for all of conservation. Terrafirma Risk Retention Group LLC has its insurance license and tax-exemption, the Land Trust Alliance board authorized commencement of operations, and we’ve raised over $4 million in capital.

This is the first time in history that an environmental organization created an insurance service. Terrafirma is a new charitable risk pool insurance service organized by the Land Trust Alliance, and owned by land trusts to protect against costly legal battles. Terrafirma increases the credibility of the land trust community and its birth is a historic moment for land conservation. Land owners, regulators, donors and the public can now be confident that land trusts take permanence seriously. Terrafirma helps land trusts avoid unnecessary litigation through solid practices, early dispute resolution and smart risk management. With Terrafirma, land trusts across America stand united to defend the permanence of conservation.

Get Started Right After Rally

Participating land trusts pay an annual fee of $60 per property and are covered for up to $500,000 in legal fees annually to defend their easements and conserved lands. The response from land trusts has been positive. Almost 500 land trusts have signed up 18,500 properties for Terrafirma coverage already. You can still commit! The one-time registration fee to join Terrafirma increases 28% on December 31, 2012. If your land trust commits to participate before then you can take advantage of the lower Founder’s discounted registration fee. View the commitment letter.

You also can start to complete your application on-line now. The Terrafirma website has lots of information and an online application. The first-time sign up process is detailed, but once you sign in once, you can save your progress and make changes as needed. So you’ll want to get started on it soon - having your information prepared and ready when the time comes to submit details and pay your premium by February 1, 2013 will help avoid confusion and delays next year.

Start Up Mechanics

Before Terrafirma can issue policies, participating land trusts also will need to formally verify that at least 16,000 properties from fully eligible land trusts will be insured. Terrafirma has received a favorable determination letter from the IRS and requires nothing further. We are grateful to the team at Sullivan & Cromwell for guiding the tax-exemption application through the IRS. We have also raised $1.44 million toward the $1.5 million goal to fund the first five years of the costs in relation to start-up operations and loss prevention services.  

Terrafirma has also been in the news. A New York Times article highlighting conservation defense challenges also headlined the new land trust collaborative defense service. Other papers and radio stations have been running excerpts of the Times article.

At the moment 467 land trusts holding 18,544 units of property have paid their fee and committed to join Terrafirma, provided that startup occurs by December 31, 2013. Of those 18,544 units, we currently have informal confirmation that 16,031 units are fully qualified by virtue of being held by accredited land trusts, or non-accredited land trusts having self-verified informal satisfaction of the eligibility criteria.

Thank you to Foundation Funders

Many thanks to all of the board, staff, funders and advisors that made this possible, and to the hundreds of participating land trusts and the thousands of land trust leaders working together to help each other. Hundreds of generous people contributed their time to creating Terrafirma including all the western pioneers who first thought of the idea a decade or more ago. Thank you to these pioneers who opened a door through important research, setting the stage for the conservation defense insurance service:

  • Liz Bell
  • John Bernstein
  • Andy Dana
  • Darla Guenzler
  • Jessica Jay
  • Dan Pike
  • Paul Sihler
  • Michael Whitfield

Generous individual and foundations also contributed to feasibility expenses and to costs of operations. These funders donated the over four million dollars in cash required as capital for Terrafirma.

Funders for Terrafirma Capitalization

  • Doris Duke Charitable Foundation
  • The David & Lucile Packard Foundation
  • Knobloch Family Foundation
  • S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation
  • Land trust participants capital contributions
  • Houston Endowment Inc.
  • Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation
  • Richard King Mellon Foundation
  • Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation

Overview of the Path and Timeline Going Forward

Terrafirma authorized the outside consultant to complete the required regulatory filings in 49 states and D.C. in order to offer this special conservation coverage to land trusts and they completed all of the registrations. We will pilot a comprehensive risk management curriculum at Rally. Then, in early 2013, immediately prior to the formal commencement of operations, Terrafirma will verify sufficient eligible properties actually insured and paid (at least 16,000 eligible properties) and issue the Commencement of Operations Certificate, permitting as a corporate matter Terrafirma to commence insurance operations. Then Marsh will issue the policies and paperwork necessary for land trusts to be Terrafirma members.


The Terrafirma Members Committee (view regional map) and the Claims Committee members (view bios) have been appointed. The Terrafirma form of insurance policy and the Claims Procedures are also available to view.  Lorraine Barrett joined the Alliance on May 3 as our first conservation defense coordinator. Lorri will assist with all aspects of conservation defense, including Terrafirma. Lorri practiced law in a litigation firm in Alexandria, Virginia, and has her JD from William & Mary Law School.

The Nonprofit Center for Risk Management Executive Director Melanie Herman wrote the risk management curriculum. This is an integral component to Terrafirma’s success. All land trusts can reduce risk exposure and manage necessary risk better through implementing the tools and techniques in this curriculum.

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Support from land trusts

Christian Freitag, attorney-at-law and executive director at Sycamore Land Trust (IN), says "I view Conservation Defense Insurance as another step the land trust community is taking to keep our promises. We claim that we will help people protect their land in perpetuity. With this program, the public can be more confident than ever that we take that commitment seriously."


Greg Gamble, executive director at Ojai Valley Land Conservancy (CA), says that "this is one of the most helpful things that the Land Trust Alliance could attempt for its members, and I have greatly appreciated the professional, thoughtful, fair and inclusive process that you have led."


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