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FAQ: Land Trusts

What is a Land Trust?

A land trust is a nonprofit organization that, as all or part of its mission, actively works to conserve land by undertaking or assisting in land or conservation easement acquisition, or by its stewardship of such land or easements.

Are land trusts government agencies?

No, they are independent, entrepreneurial organizations that work with landowners who are interested in protecting open space. However, land trusts often work cooperatively with government agencies by acquiring or managing land, researching open space needs and priorities, or assisting in the development of open space plans.

What are the advantages of working with a land trust?

Land trusts are very closely tied to the communities in which they operate. They understand the concerns of the community and the needs of the landowners.  Local landscapes differ and have different requirements.  In addition, land trusts' nonprofit tax status brings a variety of tax benefits. Donations of land, conservation easements or money may qualify you for income or gift tax savings. And since land trusts are private organizations, they can be more flexible and creative in conservation options than the public agencies can in saving land.

What does a land trust do?

Local and regional land trusts, organized as charitable organizations under federal tax laws, are directly involved in conserving land for its natural, recreational, scenic, historical and productive values. Land trusts can purchase land for permanent protection, or they may use one of several other methods: accept donations of land or the funds to purchase land, accept a bequest, or accept the donation of a conservation easement, which permanently limits the type and scope of development that can take place on the land. In some instances, land trusts also purchase conservation easements.

I first heard about land trusts just a few years ago. Are they new?

Not at all! A very few land trusts have already celebrated their centennials, but most are much younger. In 1950, for example, just 53 land trusts operated in 26 states. Today, more than 1,700 land trusts operate across the country, serving every state in the nation. The Northeast, home of the first land trust, still has the most land trusts - 581, according to the Land Trust Alliance's most recent National Land Trust Census.

What has contributed to the huge growth in the number of land trusts?

People are tremendously concerned about the unmitigated loss of open space in their own communities. They see subdivisions supplanting the open spaces where they once walked and hiked, and they want to know how they can gain the power to save the green spaces that make their communities unique. So they turn to land trusts as the local entities that have been set up to conserve land.

How do I start a land trust in my community?

Land trusts are extremely effective vehicles for conserving land. But with more than 1,700 land trusts already in existence, starting a new land trust may not be necessary, timely, or the best approach to achieving your community's conservation goals. Given the time and effort it takes to run a land trust and the long-term commitment needed to protect land in perpetuity, the Land Trust Alliance encourages you to work with an existing land trust (link to where we work/find a land trust) whenever possible. If you decide to establish a land trust, here is a book with additional information »

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A new wall map from the National Geographic Society and NatureServe illustrates some of America's greatest natural places and how they are being protected.

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