The National Land Trust Census, conducted every 5 years, says private land under protective trusts and easements now total 37 million acres, a 54% increase from 2000. Much of this growth has come from two areas – active volunteer efforts by local and state trusts, and a 158% increase in the use of land easements for tax breaks. Together, they have secured acreage the equivalent of Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachussets, and Rhode Island combined.
I’ve personally seen the rewards of hard-working land trust volunteers in action near my home in Woodside, CA. One example is the Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST), a privately funded local land trust, whom has secured a number of large areas such as the Phleger Estate, the recently refurbished Pigeon Point Preserve along the coast, and the El Corte de Madera Preserve. Each land acquisition seems to follow a similar pattern. Conservationists raise funds, then donate their time to target private lands that could be converted to open space. They then approach private land owners (typically ranchers or farmers who have had the land in their family for many years) and present to them a “land easement”. This legally declares that the land will not be developed, and will be transferred/sold to POST at some future date. In exchange, the land owners get a tax break and can continue to use the land for raising cattle or farming. It’s a good way to get property tax relief while permanently preserving the land as a scenic landscape, wildlife habitat, or other preserve.
Once the land is transferred/sold, POST invests more time and money to reseed with native plants, ensure wildlife can thrive, and in general get the land back to its original state. From there POST may manage the property, or in some cases transfer ownership back to the State or other land management (such as being annexed by an adjacent park or preserve). In either case, they do provide permits for usages such as trail runs, docent trips, and more.
POST is just one of many land trusts that are collectively making this big impact. Chuck Wilson (an ultrarunner and 40+ year Bay Area local) recently pointed out to me a number of trusts and volunteer groups just within a few miles – the Greenbelt Alliance, Committee for Green Foothills, the Midpeninsula Open Space Preserve, the Santa Clara County Open Space Authority, and more.
My deepest thank you to all who volunteer their time and money to help preserve as much open space as possible. It is one of the greatest legacies a generation could possibly gift, and I personally enjoy the fruits of your efforts nearly every day. I hope the news of the National Land Trust Census gets to all of you, for it is truly remarkable how much impact is being made on a local level. You can read more about the NLTC here in USA Today.
BTW, you can donate to POST (or make a donation on behalf of someone as a holiday gift) by clicking here.