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What is a land trust or land conservancy?

A land trust (also called a "land conservancy") is a private, nonprofit organization that works with landowners to conserve land by assisting with direct land transactions – primarily the acceptance of donations of land or conservation easements, or in somewhat rarer cases, the purchase of land or conservation easements.

Land trusts vary greatly in scope and scale, but all of them share the common mission of working cooperatively with landowners to protect and conserve land for its natural, recreational, scenic, historic, or productive value. Some land trusts focus on distinct areas, such as a single town, county or region, and support grassroots efforts to conserve lands important to local communities.

Others operate throughout an entire state or even several states. As thousands of acres of open space are lost to development annually, the public is turning more and more frequently to land trusts, which are filling a national need to protect and steward open lands in perpetuity. Land trusts are also sometimes called conservancies, foundations and associations.

The country's first land trusts were established in Massachusetts during the 1850s for the purpose of protecting small parcels of land for public use. They were often known as "village improvement societies."

One hundred years later in 1950, there were 53 land trusts operating in 26 states. Since that time, the increase in numbers of land trusts and the acres they have protected has been dramatic.

Today, there are more than 1,500 local and regional land trusts across the nation protecting more than nine million acres of farmland, wetlands, ranches, forests, watersheds, river corridors, and other land types, as well as several national land trusts that have protected millions more acres.

Parts courtesy the Land Trust Alliance

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