Land conservation is catching on all around the world, but remarkably, most international non-governmental organizations are working without the advantage of the financial and tax incentives that have powered the American land trust movement. So says Peter Stein, principal at Lyme Timber Co. and a Kingsbury Browne Fellow at the Lincoln Institute, who kicked off the 2014 spring lecture series earlier this month.
In a wide-ranging survey of international conservation efforts, Stein shared research on private land conserving efforts across the globe and highlighted select examples of individual NGO action and networked associations. Stein looked at activity in more than 35 countries, many of them relying on growing information networks of NGO practitioners, from New Zealand to Chile. He also reflected on his personal experience as one of the many architects of the U.S. land trust movement over the past 35 years, and the potential for establishing an international network.
Beginning in Massachusetts with the Trustees of Reservations in 1891 and continuing with the Audubon Society in 1896, permanent land protection on a regional basis by non-profit organizations got a big boost in the second half of the 20th century with the advent of tax-deductible conservation easements. As transactions increased, Boston attorney Kingsbury Browne first had the idea of coordination at the national overview. He convened a group of conservation specialists in 1981 at the Lincoln Institute, which ultimately turned into the Land Trust Alliance. Today there are more than 1,700 local and regional land trusts in the U.S. as well as two dozen national organizations, that have collectively protected more than 47 million acres of land.
Worldwide, 74 countries have NGOs dealing in some way with private land conservation, Stein said. But the notion of permanent land protection is quite different in most other countries, outside of the United Kingdom and Australia, he said. More common are stewardship agreements, short-term leases, as well as some easements, though they tend not to be permanent. “In many countries, nobody is allowed to own land in perpetuity,” not just a land trust, he said.
Following up on the lecture as a respondent, Laura Johnson, immediate past president of the Mass Audubon, noted that easements “changed the game” in terms of common property law in the U.S., and that conservation unquestionably accelerated thanks to favorable tax treatment.
Also this month on the subject, a working paper by Harvey Jacobs has been posted, Conservation Easements in the U.S. and Abroad.