Land trusts such as the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy are nonprofit organizations that protect land for its natural, recreational, scenic, cultural, or productive value. There are currently over 1,600 land trusts operating in communities across the nation. These land trusts have preserved more than 37 million acres of land.
The Conservancy is interested in preserving the following kinds of land:
- Of scientific, cultural, or archeological significance, such as dramatic geological features or sites once inhabited by Native Americans.
- Stream and trail corridors
- Scenic vistas
- Land that will provide long-term access to hiking trails, extend or link trails, provide terrain for new trails, or act as a buffer zone between hiking trails and other conflicting uses of the land.
- Working landscapes such as land being used for agriculture or forestry
- Wetlands and other environments which provide significant wildlife habitat.
The two most common means of protecting land are:
- Conservation Easements and
1) The conservation easement is a legal agreement between a land owner and a land trust to restrict the type and amount of development that may occur on a piece of property. Conservation easements allow people to protect their land from inappropriate development while retaining private ownership, and along with it, the right to sell the land or pass it on to heirs.
Conservation easements are tailored to meet the needs of individual parcels of land as well as individual land owners. Future owners of the land will be bound by the easement's terms. It is the land trust to which the easement is donated that is responsible for making sure the terms of the easement are enforced.
The primary benefit of a conservation easement to the property owner is, of course, the permanent protection of the land. But there are other benefits as well. The donation of a conservation easement that meets federal tax code requirements by permanently protecting important conservation resources can qualify as a tax-deductible charitable donation.
Conservation easements benefit the community as a whole by preserving open space. The preservation of open space can offset any effects of property tax reductions for landowners who have donated easements. Studies show that open space demands far less in services than it pays in tax dollars whereas developed land requires much more in services than it pays for. And because protected open space is viewed as a good neighbor, the value of nearby properties is often increased. A community's tax base does not suffer and in fact, the value of nearby properties may increase. In the long run, the preservation of open space costs the community less than development.
2) Acquisition: the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy accepts donations of land that meets the Conservancy's criteria particularly the kinds of land outlined above.
Whenever MHLC acquires a conservation easement or title to a piece of property, it assumes responsibility for the ongoing stewardship of the land. The Conservancy maintains a fund to cover the expenses associated with this stewardship. The stewardship fund consists of monetary contributions made by the donors of easements and land as well as money generated by Conservancy fundraising efforts. Each landowner donating a property interest is asked to make a monetary contribution, a portion of which is added to the stewardship fund. However, inability to make a contribution does not automatically exclude a property from consideration.