About land trusts
A land trust or land conservancy is a community-based, nonprofit organization that actively works to permanently conserve land. In some cases, land trusts acquire land outright. They also partner to conserve land that remains the property of willing landowners using a tool called a conservation easement. Land trusts also manage or restore land once it has been conserved.
Land trusts can be local, state or regional in scope, working directly with private landowners and community partners to protect land that has natural, recreational, scenic, historical or agricultural values. Land trusts work in 93 percent of U.S. counties — serving urban, suburban and rural communities.
Land trusts can be all-volunteer or made up of a volunteer board of directors and paid staff that represent a diversity of skills and experience in conservation and carry out the day-to-day activities of running a land trust.
Every land trust is as unique as the community it serves.
Conserved land provides considerable public benefits. The lands protected by land trusts help provide clean water, protect habitat for wildlife and plants and help fight the impacts of climate change. Some land trusts work in urban locations, creating community gardens, protecting green spaces and planting trees that cool air temperatures and reduce air pollution. Other land trusts work in rural areas, protecting family farms and ranches, conserving forests and securing water resources.
Most land trust projects start through the generosity of private landowners, and many of these lands are open to the public. In fact, 80 percent of land trusts provide public access to their protected lands, according to the 2020 National Land Trust Census, amounting to 1.2 million acres of land and 9,761 miles of trails open to the public.
Land trusts also offer a wide variety of programs and events that connect community members to the land. In 2020, 6.4 million people participated in land trust programs such as story walks for children, nature hikes and bike rides for the adventurous, exercise classes in nature for health and wellness, farmers markets and community gardens that put fresh food on the kitchen table, and so much more.
Land trusts do not do this work alone. They partner with libraries, gyms, community centers, farmers co-ops, local businesses, extension agents, schools, hospitals and other nonprofits to connect people with the land in ways that are meaningful to them.
Land trusts have helped grow many of the public parks that people know and love. In addition to working with private landowners and community partners, land trusts work in tandem with state and federal agencies to protect critical tracts of land in or near public lands or transfer privately protected properties into public ownership.
Land trusts work to ensure that lands acquired or placed under easement are properly conserved and stewarded for the long haul, ensuring their conservation benefits last long into the future.
Land stewardship is the promise a land trust makes to care for the land forever. Permanent conservation means not only protecting the land but taking care of it too. Stewardship can include annual monitoring of properties and other responsibilities outlined in Land Trust Standards and Practices. An essential part of stewardship is maintaining good relationships with landowners and serving as a resource on land management issues. It also involves staying abreast of the most innovative land management practices. For many land trusts, stewardship is a large part of their work.
Find a land trust near you
There are 1,281 land trusts nationwide, 950 of which are members of the Land Trust Alliance. These land trusts are collectively backed by 234,000 volunteers and roughly 6.4 million supporters, and they welcomed 16.7 million visitors in 2020 alone.