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2010 National Land Trust Census

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Introduction

Saving land has given America the chance to know itself again. When we look into the mirror of our national identity, we can now see farms, urban gardens, historic sites, mountains and rivers—not just strip malls, bulldozers and traffic jams. Through land conservation, we give people the opportunity to taste something of what it is like to be authentically human: children rolling in the grass of an urban park; a grandfather teaching his granddaughter the quiet art of fishing; a fifth-generation farmer growing vegetables on his family’s homestead—nourishing his community with both fresh food and a farm stand where neighbors gather. We set out to save land, but, in the end, we build community, preserve beauty and instill hope.

This report describes how land trusts are making these everyday miracles happen, despite the recession and big cuts to government funding. As measured by the 2010 National Land Trust Census, the land trust community in 2010 has protected more land, both nationwide and in every region. More people are involved in on-the-ground conservation: land trust board members, staff and volunteers. Land trusts are more strategic in their work, guided by written project selection criteria and strategic conservation plans. They are more sustainable, with growing operating endowments and funding dedicated to ongoing stewardship. Finally, the land trust community as a whole is more accountable in its commitment to meet the highest standards, with 135 land trusts accredited to date and more preparing to apply in the coming years.

Key Findings of the 2010 National Land Census

  • Total acres conserved by state, local and national land trusts grew to 47 million as of year-end 2010—an increase of about 10 million acres since 2005 and 23 million since 2000.
  • The number of active land trusts has leveled off at 1,723 organizations since the last Census. This includes 1,699 state and local groups and 24 organizations categorized as national land trusts. California has the most land trusts with 197, followed by Massachusetts (159), Connecticut (137), Pennsylvania (103) and New York (97).
  • The number of active land trust volunteers increased by 70% since 2005, while the number of paid staff and contractors increased by 19%.
  • On average, a land trust with a strategic conservation plan guiding its land or easement acquisition conserves twice as many acres as a land trust without such a plan.
  • From 2005 to 2010, state and local land trusts more than doubled the amount of funding they have dedicated to monitoring, stewardship and legal defense. They also nearly tripled their operating endowments.

Purpose of the Five-Year Census

The National Land Trust Census measures the pace and quality of the important conservation work of state, local and national land trusts in the United States. The Land Trust Alliance has reported on the status and successes of land trusts since its founding in 1982. As the land trust movement continues to grow and attract greater attention from the media and the general public, tracking and reporting on the impact of land trusts is critical for gaining even more public support for land trusts and land conservation.

The 2010 National Land Trust Census was developed in cooperation with the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.  We also appreciate the generous support of the ExxonMobil Corporation.

Survey Methodology

The Land Trust Alliance collected data from January to September 2011 for the 2010 Census, beginning with a survey sent to about 1,760 land conservation organizations in the United States by email and postal mail. All respondents were asked to report on their land conservation and organizational activities as of December 31, 2010. More than 950 land trusts responded directly, a 55% response rate, in line with previous Census years. To ensure consistency with past Census data, we collected additional information by email, telephone and from state land trust associations. For land trusts for which no new information was available, we carried forward data from the 2005 and 2000 Census years.

Questions?  Email census@lta.org, or call 202-638-4725.

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