Something to Be Thankful For: Land Trusts

A magnificent 200-year-old oak tree named, “John’s Oak” at the St. Simons Island.

When we asked our partners at the St. Simons Land Trust about what they’ve been thankful for this year they told us that the opportunity to operate a land trust in one of coastal Georgia’s most diverse ecosystems is something to be thankful for in and of itself. Land trusts are a really important conservation tool–in addition to public lands–and we wanted to take a moment to help explain how they work and why we should all be thankful for them!

The Basics: There are roughly 1,000 land trusts in the nation of those, nearly 400 are accredited (including the St. Simons Land Trust!). This is an extremely rigorous process that has to be reapplied for every five years.

Broadly, land trusts can:

  • Purchase land through fundraising
  • Have land donated to them
  • Hold a conservation easement on a piece of land owned by someone else. A conservation easement is a voluntary legal agreement between a landowner and a land trust or government agency that permanently limits uses of the land in order to protect its conservation values. 

What Makes Land Trusts Unique: According to the Tall Pines Conservancy, many land trusts work cooperatively with government agencies by acquiring or managing land, researching conservation needs and priorities, or assisting in the development of open space plans. However, because they are private organizations, land trusts can be more flexible than public agencies – and can act more quickly – in conserving important lands.

Why Land Conservation Matters: We write a lot about the importance of protecting nature. There are a lot of benefits that healthy and protected ecosystems provide, in short they,

  • Help filter our air and water
  • Absorb carbon emissions
  • Conserve wildlife habitat
  • Protect cultural and historical assets
  • Provide places to reflect and recreate
  • Provide natural spaces for educational opportunities
  • Provide protection from natural disasters, such as floods and droughts

For landowners, conservation through a land trust also has financial benefits in addition to environmental ones, including:

  • Income tax deductions derived from loss of development rights
  • Lower property tax
  • Lower estate tax when passing property on to a family member

Why This Matters: Land trusts across the nation have conserved a staggering 56 million acres, an area of protected land that is double the size of all the land in national parks across the lower 48 states. The success of these conservation stats result from, in part, an increased number of land trusts at work in more areas of the country, with more staff and more volunteers. This success also relies on stable federal conservation incentives, along with a variety of state and local policies that support conservation.

Are you interested in volunteering for a land trust? Find one in your area and get out there!

Go Deeper: Take a walk through St. Simon’s Land Trust and get a sense of how dedicated its volunteers are to its preservation.

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