What Is a Land Trust?

Land trusts are organizations directly involved in protecting land for its natural, recreational, scenic, historical or productive value. A land trust can operate at the local, state, or regional level. Most land trusts are private, nonprofit corporations. Land trusts are not “trusts” in the legal sense, and may also be called “conservancies,” “foundations,” or other names descriptive of their purpose.

Land trusts are distinguished by their first-hand involvement in land transactions or management. Some, like Barnstable Land Trust, purchase or accept donations of land or of conservation easements (permanent, binding agreements that restrict the uses of a piece of land to protect its conservation resources). Most advise landowners on how to preserve their land. Some land trusts help negotiate conservation transactions in which they play no other role or manage land owned by others. Land trusts often work cooperatively with government agencies by acquiring or managing land, researching open space needs and priorities, and assisting in the development of open space plans. They also may work with other nonprofit organizations and sometimes with developers.

Most land trusts depend on volunteer leadership and support even if they also have a professional staff. They have the potential to bring together a wide range of people in a community, such as naturalists, planners, farmers, landowners, community leaders, sometimes developers, and others who care about special lands in their communities.

For more information about land trusts nationwide, visit The Land Trust Alliance website.
(Adapted from The Land Trust Alliance. Starting a Land Trust: A Guide to Forming a Land Conservation Organization. Virginia: The Land Trust)