Land Trust Advantages

Click here for a radio interview with Mark Robinson about the tax advantages associated with protecting land through local land trusts.

 Land Trust Advantages

Land trusts are local, state, or regional nonprofit organizations directly
involved in protecting land for its natural, recreational, scenic,
historical, or productive value. Most land trusts are private, nonprofit
corporations. Land trusts are not “trusts” in the legal sense, and may also
be called “conservancies,” “foundations,” or any number of other names
descriptive of their purpose.

Land trusts are distinguished by their first-hand involvement in land
transactions or management. This involvement can take many forms. Some
land trusts purchase or accept donations of land or of conservation
easements (permanent, binding agreements that restrict the uses of a piece
of land to protect its conservation resources). Some manage land owned by
others or advise landowners on how to preserve their land. Some land trusts
help negotiate conservation transactions in which they play no other role.
Land trusts often work cooperatively with government agencies by acquiring
or managing land, researching open space needs and priorities, and assisting
in the development of open space plans. They also may work with other
nonprofit organizations and sometimes with developers. A land trust may do
one, several, or all of these things.

Some land trusts are organized to protect a single piece of property, but
the more active trusts have a larger land protection agenda. They may focus
their efforts in a community, in a region, on a particular type of resource,
or on a protection project. Some operate statewide and work cooperatively
with local land trusts in addition to conducting their own land conservation
projects. Resources protected by land trusts include forests, prairie
grasslands, islands, urban gardens, river corridors, farmland, watersheds,
parklands, marshes, ranchland, scenic vistas, cultural landscapes, Civil War
battlefields, and hiking trails.

Most land trusts depend on volunteer leadership and support even if they
also have a professional staff. They have the potential to bring together a
wide range of people in a community, such as naturalists, planners, farmers,
hunters, landowners, community leaders, sometimes developers, and others
who care about special lands in their communities.

Land trusts have many advantages as a vehicle for protecting land. They can
hold and manage land and other assets as a corporation, rather than through
individuals. As private organizations, land trusts can be more flexible and
creative and can generally act more quickly than government agencies, since
they are not as restrained by politics and procedures. They are able to
negotiate with landowners discreetly, confidentially, and quickly.

Their nonprofit status brings them a variety of tax benefits. Donations to
land trusts may qualify donors of land, conservation easements [also called
conservation restrictions], or money for income, estate, or gift tax
savings. Properly structured land trusts are exempt from federal and state
income taxes, and sometimes from local property and real estate transfer
taxes as well. Nonprofit status is also an advantage in raising funds from
a variety of sources.

As community-based organizations, land trusts draw on community resources,
including volunteer time and skills. Their community orientation is also
helpful in selecting and negotiating transactions. They are familiar with
the land in the area and often have the trust and confidence of local
landowners who may not want to work with government agencies or entities
from outside the community.

(Source: The Land Trust Alliance. Starting a Land Trust: A Guide to
Forming a Land Conservation Organization. Virginia: The Land Trust
Alliance, 1990.)