The Land Trust Alliance, a national land conservation organization working to save the places people love by strengthening land conservation across America, today released a comprehensive report showing 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.
In sum, state, local and national land trusts voluntarily conserved an average of 5,000 acres per day — or 1.8 million acres per year — during the reporting period of the National Land Trust Census (Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, 2015).
The full report is available at www.lta.org/census. Interactive features in this year’s report allow anyone to hover over the map to get a summary snapshot of land conservation data points for that area. Each state’s portal also includes fun facts, an image gallery and a breakdown of the state’s unique land conservation priorities.
The 56 million acres represent an increase of 9 million acres since 2010, when the Alliance last released its National Land Trust Census Report. As the most comprehensive data source for land protected by private nonprofit organizations, the Census is both a benchmark and a snapshot of the land trust movement and its collective impact on people and communities across the country. Other key findings from the newest Census include:
Protecting and preserving important natural areas and wildlife habitats, maintaining water quality and preserving working farms or ranchlands identified at the top three conservation priorities across all land trusts;
Land trust properties saw 6.2 million visitors in 2015;
Nearly $2.2 billion in endowments and funding are now managed by land trusts; and
More than 4.6 million people are active financial supporters of land trusts.
Common Ground, Community Impact
But such numbers represent just a fraction of the Census story. Andrew Bowman, the Alliance’s president, said that compared to 2010, more land trusts are focusing intensely on local community benefits as they further their missions.
“Land trusts are in a position to address many of society’s ills,” he said. “How do we stem a national health crisis and provide opportunities for people to exercise and recreate? Land is the answer. How do we secure local, healthy and sustainable food? Land is the answer. And land even has a role to play in mitigating climate change.”
These themes — and stories of local successes — are reflected within the 24-page Census.
Protecting family land for the future (via Blue Mountain Land Trust in Washington state). In a place where streams are pure and elk roam, nearly 3,000 acres have been set aside for the benefit of all at a time when area ranches are being sold and subdivided.
Bringing people to the land today (via Bear Yuba Land Trust in California). Concerns about safety and accessibility disappear at Burton Homestead, where teens hike hand-in-hand and those in wheelchairs are fully included.
Accomplishing more together (via New Haven Land Trust in Connecticut). Something as small as a community garden is making a big difference as people revel in the offering. Kids become calmer, adults become friendlier and neighbors embrace the change.
“I believe in this community and I believe in the Land Trust Alliance,” Bowman said. “We truly are in a position to address many of the biggest challenges our society faces — and we have the passion and the power when we come together to make that happen.”
Importance of Land Conservation Incentives
The report’s release coincides with the one-year anniversary of Congress enacting one of the most powerful conservation measures in decades: the enhanced federal tax incentive for conservation easement donations. The permanent conservation easement tax incentive is a powerful tool that helps Americans conserve their land voluntarily.
The Census is commissioned by the Alliance, which represents nonprofit land trusts in the United States that conserve or steward land by acquiring land or conservation easements. As a formal quantifier of land conservation, the Census was first conducted in 1981 and is updated every five years. The Alliance collected data from January to April 2016 for the 2015 Census, beginning with a survey sent to approximately 1,900 land conservation organizations across the United States via email and postal mail. All respondents were asked to report on their land conservation and organizational activities as of Dec. 31, 2015. More than 740 organizations responded to the 2015 survey.