The State of Land Trusts in America

2005 Land Trust Census Report

Definition of a Land Trust:
A land trust is a nonprofit organization that, as all or part of its mission, actively works to conserve land by undertaking or assisting in land or conservation easement acquisition, or by its stewardship of such land or easements.

Key Findings of 2005 National Land Trust Census

  • Total acreage conserved through private means is 37 million acres, a 54% increase from 24 million acres in 2000. This includes both land protected by local and state land trusts, and the largest national land conservation groups, including The Nature Conservancy, Ducks Unlimited, The Conservation Fund, and The Trust for Public Land.
  • The pace of private land conservation has tripled by local and state land trusts. From 1995-2000, land trusts conserved an average of 337,937 acres per year. That pace soared to 1,166,697 million acres conserved per year, on average, from 2000-2005.
  • America’s land trusts have markedly enhanced their professionalism and increased their ranks to 1,667 in 2005 from 1,263 in 2000.
  • Acres conserved by local and state land trusts doubled. 11.9 million acres were conserved by these groups through 2005—an area twice the size of the state of New Hampshire. This is an increase of 5.8 million acres since 2000.
  • The land type reported as being the primary focus of land trust efforts is protecting natural areas and wildlife habitat (39%), followed by open space (38%) and water resources (26%), especially wetlands. Yet the type of land protected nationwide is quite varied, reflecting the regional differences in landforms. Other protected areas are farms, coastal shores, prairies, deserts, urban gardens and local parks. Another emerging pattern is land conservation in connection with building affordable housing.
  • Land trusts’ numbers, fiduciary status and organizational management are strong. The number of land trusts grew 32%, to 1,667, during the five-year period. Over $1 billion in endowments have been established for long term stewardship of protected land; and the average annual operating budget increased 63% as of 2005. Nearly 1,000 land trusts have adopted the 2004 Revised Land Trust Standards and Practices, a set of guidelines developed by the land trust community for the professional operation of a land trust.
It's time to give trusts a try for national park management.