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Buyer's market may help land trusts

January 11, 2009 | Portland Press Herald (ME)

By JOHN RICHARDSON

But they'll need to be more creative about how they acquire property in order to take advantage.

After years of trying to keep pace with developers and rising property values, land conservationists like Robert Shafto of Falmouth are finally looking at a buyer's market.

"It's a good time to be buying land," Shafto said, "if you have the money."

That's a big "if" these days.

Maine's 100 or so land trusts are looking for new conservation opportunities amid the turmoil in the economy, and in some cases, they're finding them. But they also are facing the challenges of raising funds in a recession and closing deals in an unsettled real estate market.

The financial climate is expected to lead to more creative conservation projects, such as acquisitions that have economic as well as scenic benefits. It also is sure to encourage more collaboration between groups, and could speed up consolidation of smaller local land trusts into larger regional groups.

"I think all the pieces are there to see some real challenging land conservation times," said Kevin Case, Northeast Program director for the Land Trust Alliance, a national advocacy group. "I don't know if the full impact has been really felt yet."

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