Big gains in voluntary land conservation despite recession

The first census of land trusts in five years found 10 million new acres conserved nationwide since 2005, including 113,000 new acres in Ohio.

The National Land Trust Census, released by the Land Trust Alliance, shows that voluntarily protected land increased 27% between 2005 and 2010. In the same time period, the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, a major federal conservation program, added just over 500,000 acres and saw a 38% funding cut. The census is online at www.lta.org/census.

A total of 47 million acres — an area over twice the size of all the national parks in the contiguous United States — are now protected by land trusts. A greater percentage of the new acreage comes through local and state land trusts. In Ohio, land trusts conserved 113,146 acres between 2005 and 2010, a 132% increase in land protected.

“The people of Ohio value their land, and we are conserving it at the community level,” said Kevin Joyce, executive director of Black Swamp Conservancy. “Here in Ohio, we are investing in our future with land trusts that ensure clean water, local food and places to play for our children and for generations to come.”

An enhanced tax deduction for conservation easement donations has helped America’s land trusts work with farmers and other modest-income landowners to sustain a remarkable pace of more than one million acres protected by conservation easements each year!  But if Congress allows this incentive to expire at the end of 2011, fewer landowners will receive tax benefits from the generous donation of development rights on their land.

“Black Swamp Conservancy thanks Representatives Marcy Kaptur and Robert Latta for being among the 282 House and 12 Senate co-sponsors of H.R. 1964/S. 339, bills to make this important conservation tax incentive permanent,” Joyce said. “That’s more co-sponsors than any other tax bill in Congress!  We encourage Senators Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman to join them as co-sponsors of this important legislation.”

Other findings of the new National Land Trust Census include:

• There are now 44 land trusts operating in Ohio, including 18 staffed groups and 16 all-volunteer groups.

• Land trusts saw a 70% increase in volunteers from the previous five-year period.

• Since 2005, there are 19% more paid employees and contractors at land trusts.

• Land trusts in Ohio drew upon the work of 1,229 active and the contributions of 16,871 members and financial supporters.

• The preservation of family farms and ranchlands is now a priority for 61% of land trusts, up from 21% that listed farmland as the top priority in 2005.

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