An Open Field
This paper explores the history of the land trust movement in the US, looks at specific examples of the growing private land conservation movement around the globe, and proposes a model that includes a framework of legal, financial and organizational elements that are needed to grow and sustain private land conservation activity regardless of geography.
Currently there are approximately 1,700 land trusts in the US, which have protected 47 million acres of land for purposes including biodiversity, natural habitat, agriculture, forests, recreation, wetlands, urban parks, historic, scenic and cultural values. The important overarching issue of how private land conservation serves the public interest and provides public benefits has been present since the beginning of land trusts in the late 19th century. Since the early 1980’s, private land conservation has benefited from the legal recognition and enforcement of conveyances of “partial” interests in land known as conservation easements or restrictions, and from federal tax incentives for those gifts. This combination of legal and financial support has enabled state and local land trusts in the US to accelerate acres protected primarily by using conservation easements.
Even as land conservationists in the United States continue to expand their impact, conservationists outside the United States are adapting existing tools and developing new practices to work on opportunities and challenges elsewhere around the world. In more than 70 countries across the globe, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) involved in the protection of private forestland, farmland and natural habitats are now active.
Private land conservation is on the rise in countries around the world. The framework and analysis for private land conservation provided in this paper is intended to be useful in developing the needed elements that will allow private land conservation to flourish.