WHAT IS A LAND TRUST

There are over 100 known Land Trusts operating in Canada committed to the permanent protection of lands with natural, recreational, scenic, historical or agricultural value.

There is no "owner" of a Land Trust. Volunteer contributions of time and other supports help to protect land through agreements, acquisition and stewardship.

Land Trusts are not government agencies. They are independent organizations that work with interested and willing private landowners.

Land Trusts may work cooperatively with government agencies and academic institutions by partnering to acquire or manage land, conduct research or assist in the development of open space plans. While most land trusts operate under the Canadian Land Trust Alliance's Standards and Practices each is distinct in its focus, priorities and operations for land protection.

Read this page to learn more; access any section on this page by clicking on each title below:

The Land Trust Movement Public Access
How Land Trusts Protect Lands Signs and Recognition
What is Securement Land Securement Costs
Why Use Easements Stewardship Costs
Landowner Benefits How is the Land Trust Supported

The Land Trust Movement

Primary champions of land trusts have been ecologists and naturalists driven to protect known habitats and populations of specific species. Working mostly at local and regional scales, trusts have also evolved from concern for aesthetic and heritage values and even more self-serving interests like preservation of game hunting areas. No matter what the motivation, land trusts have protected vast areas of significant physical features and habitat for the good of many species.

The North American land trust movement slowly grew from the first in Massachusetts in 1891. The large and well known Nature Conservancy was incorporated in 1951 in the U.S., and the Nature Conservancy of Canada in 1962. Both organizations, national in scope, have been instrumental in bringing scientific rigour to protecting representative and significant landscapes and their related ecological functions. Likewise these larger conservancies have been very successful in establishing significant endowments, donations and support, and securing vast tracts of land.

Regional and local land trusts have a distinct niche and attachment to more local community values and priorities. They are able to respond to landowners and conserve lands within a less structured manner, yet offer the same type of protection and benefits as larger trusts.

Ontario Nature (formerly the Federation of Ontario Naturalists), 1931 and The Island Nature Trust, 1979, of Prince Edward Island are Canada's oldest land trusts. In 1998 there were approximately sixty known trusts, also known as conservancies, operating in Canada, over eighty in 2001 and over 100 in 2003. These charitable organizations are committed to the permanent protection of lands with natural, recreational, scenic, historical or agricultural value.

There is no "owner" of a land trust. Members elect a Board of Directors from the community who take responsibility for the affairs of the organization. Individuals volunteer their time to ensure the success of the programs of the land trust. Depending on the support available to individual trusts, there may or may not be paid part-time or full-time staff. Most rely very heavily on volunteer contributions of time and effort to fulfill their mandates of protecting land through agreements, acquisition and stewardship.

Land Trusts are not government agencies. They are independent organizations that work with interested and willing private landowners. There are no political appointments to the Board and the land trust operates at arm's length with all levels of government or government agencies. Land trusts may work cooperatively with government agencies and academic institutions by partnering to acquire or manage land, researching open space needs and priorities, or assisting in the development of community open space plans. From time to time there may be an ability to leverage private donations against funds available from various levels of government.

What Land Trusts have in common is the passion and concern of people behind them. In Ontario many land trust boards have formally adopted and are now guided by the Canadian Land Trust Alliance Standards and Practices.

How do Land Trusts Protect Lands?

Land trusts use a variety of approaches to achieve their objectives including:

  • acquiring conservation easements to secure permanent protection of landscape features without direct ownership
  • encouraging and accepting outright donation of lands
  • purchasing threatened lands (with reliance on successful fund raising campaigns)
  • raising funds through private donations or government funding programs to continue their work

What is Securement?

Land securement by the Oak Ridges Moraine Trust involves acquisition of an interest in title or ownership of land whether partial (conservation easement) or full certificate of title (fee simple). Both allow for perpetual conservation to be defined by the current owner. Ideally conservation easements offer protection beyond the provision of municipal plans and the provincial Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan.

Why use Easements?

Easement transactions achieve protection at much less cost to charitable land trusts than acquisition of full title. Conservation easements registered on title provide covenants for natural area protection while the land continues in private ownership. The landowner continues as registered owner and steward of the property. The obligations of the landowner transfer with the property title.

Each of these voluntary transactions and each situation differs in landowner benefits, including tax exemptions and capital gains relief. Landowners are always directed to seek independent counsel on financial benefits and legal implications.

What is the Benefit to the Landowner?

Landowner benefits are very specific to each individual property and each property owner. A conservation agreement protects the current owner's stewardship investment, can significantly reduce the tax burden and can avoid future family disputes over the uses and disposition of the property.

By entering into a conservation easement the registered owner may realize reduced property or income taxes either immediately or at some point in the future.

Conservation agreements also have value for the surrounding area. In concert with agreements on nearby properties, over time the value of all the properties may rise because their amenities are protected. An agreement may also redirect or avoid development that would be very costly for a municipality and other agencies to service (with roads, sewers, school buses, etc.). Thus, agreements can help spare ratepayers from large future tax increases.

More detailed information on Conservation Easements can be obtained here: Conservation Easements; or by contacting the Oak Ridges Moraine Land Trust office.

Does Securement Mean Open Access to the Public?

Absolutely not. The primary public benefit land owners contribute is protection of open space, habitat protection and allowing natural processes to continue. The land owner determines what level of access, if any, is wanted on the parcel in question.

For instance the Land Trust may work to secure passage for the Oak Ridges Trail through the use of Conservation Easements thereby ensuring access for the trail and trail users in perpetuity. The land owner defines the type of trail use, such as pedestrian only, preferred on their property. The Oak Ridges Moraine Land Trust has worked together with the Trail Association and land owners for just such purposes – to the delight of the land owners and respectful trail users alike.

Will there be Signs and Recognition?

The Land Trust often acknowledges and celebrates easements and donations with signs, newsletter stories and recognition ceremonies to encourage others to consider involvement in conservation. Ultimately you decide what visible recognitions you are comfortable with. Land protection in support of ecosystem and habitat sustainability is greatly enhanced when several areas are connected. Many current conservation easement holders promote the advantages of protection with neighbours in their immediate communities to further support the work of the Land Trust.

What does it Take to Secure Lands?

Securement activities of the Oak Ridges Moraine Land Trust in a typical year amount to between $100,000 and $120,000, in direct costs, depending on the number of active property files. Appraisals, legal fees, surveys and all other transactions one would normally face in a property transaction fall into this category. Negotiations for conservation easements take considerable time for relationship building.

Site visits to assess property features and gain an understanding of the landowners' concerns and plans can mean several meetings with donors. It is not uncommon for Land Trusts to invest considerable time and effort in the process and then have a landowner decide not to proceed adding to the overall cost of the operation of the Trust.

After an easement or donation has been negotiated and the transaction completed there is still a need to develop base-line reports and monitoring plans – all with the landowner's participation.

What are Stewardship Costs?

Property taxes, fencing, property monitoring, maintenance and other activities account for approximately $35,000 a year under the Stewardship program for the properties currently owned by the Land Trust.

As a ball-park figure it can cost in the area of $2000/acre for tree planting done with the assistance of specially designed machinery. Even hand-planting of trees requires site preparation, purchase of seedlings, and maintenance throughout the seasons immediately following the planting activity. These costs need to be covered by the landowner, which can be the Land Trust.

One of the aims of the Oak Ridges Moraine Land Trust is to ensure that Stewardship activities on Land Trust easements and properties can be supported through either the contribution of the landowner or through donation for owned properties. Wherever possible the Trust works to leverage other supports from programs of several conservation partners and encourages landowners to access these funds or in-kind contributions.

How Does the Land Trust Support Itself?

As is common with non-profit organizations in all sectors, support for general operations is challenging to find. Administration, fundraising, volunteer management, board development and communications and outreach activity – all essential to the operation of any business or organization – are not typically easily funded.

It is anticipated that $150,000 - $175,000 will be required annually to house the Oak Ridges Moraine Land Trust, maintain equipment and communications channels, ensure accountability, and support governance and activities of the Trust at the current level of activity.

Public and private foundation and program grants differ widely in their support for "overhead" costs creating a challenging atmosphere for sustaining what is often interpreted as non-program costs. Donor advised funds do not often support administration and operations, leading to high turnover of qualified staff and burn out of dedicated volunteers. The ORMLT, like many other organizations in the relatively young environmental non-profit sector, is working hard to address issues of continuity and sustainability through increasing organizational capacity.

Oak Ridges Moraine Land Trust: Cawthra Mulock Nature Reserve 18462 Bathurst Street Newmarket Ontario L3Y 4V9 Tel:(905)853-3171