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The Land Trust Movement in America

Richard Brewer

Publication Year: 2013

Land trusts, or conservancies, protect land by owning it. Although many people are aware of a few large land trusts--The Nature Conservancy and the Trust for Public Land, for instance--there are now close to 1,300 local trusts, with more coming into being each month.

American land trusts are diverse, shaped by their missions and adapted to their local environments. Nonetheless, all land trusts are private, non-profit organizations for which the acquisition and protection of land by direct action is the primary or sole mission. Nonconfrontational and apolitical, land trusts work with willing land owners in voluntary transactions.

Although land trusts are the fastest-growing and most vital part of the land conservation movement today, this model of saving land by private action has become dominant only in the past two decades. Brewer tells why the advocacy model--in which private groups try to protect land by promoting government purchase or regulation-- in the 1980s was eclipsed by the burgeoning land trust movement. He gives the public a much-needed primer on what land trusts are, what they do, how they are related to one another and to other elements of the conservation and environmental movements, and their importance to conservation in the coming decades. As Brewer points out, unlike other land-saving measures, land trust accomplishments are permanent. At the end of a cooperative process between a landowner and the local land trust, the land is saved in perpetuity.

Brewer's book, the first comprehensive treatment of land trusts, combines a historical overview of the movement with more specific information on the different kinds of land trusts that exist and the problems they face. The volume also offers a "how-to" approach for persons and institutions interested in donating, selling, or buying land, discusses four major national land trusts (The Nature Conservancy, Trust for Public Land, American Farmland Trust, and Rails-to-Trails Conservancy); and gives a generous sampling of information about the activities and accomplishments of smaller, local trusts nationwide. Throughout, the book is enriched by historical narrative, analysis of successful land trusts, and information on the how and why of protecting land, as well as Brewer's intimate knowledge of ecological systems, biodiversity, and the interconnectedness of human and non-human life forms.

Conservancy is a must-read volume for people interested in land conservation--including land trust members, volunteers and supporters--as well as anyone concerned about land use and the environment.

Published by: Dartmouth College Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

More than a decade ago, several citizens concerned with the loss of open space, natural land, and farmland in southwestern Michigan began to talk about starting an organization to counteract that unfortunate trend. We met through the summer of 1991 and incorporated in October. All over the nation, others with similar thoughts were banding together. ...

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Introduction: Saving Land the Old-Fashioned Way

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pp. 1-12

Land trusts, also called conservancies, are private nonprofit organizations that protect land directly, by owning it. They are the most successful and exciting force in U.S. land conservation today and perhaps the most effective component of the whole environmental movement. ...

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1 | History

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pp. 13-40

Land conservation, like jazz, is an American invention. The idea was a response to the rapid, ongoing destruction of the natural landscape in the second half of the nineteenth century. Increasing population drove the destruction. Human numbers were 17 million in 1840 and 63 million in 1890. ...

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2 | Sprawl

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pp. 41-56

One morning two years after I came to Michigan, I set out to explore an extensive bog forest. An old logging road ran a few hundred yards to a plateau rising about 30 feet above the level of the bog. On this island of high ground grew large trees of sugar maple and American beech, as well as elm, basswood, and tulip tree. ...

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3 | Why Save Land

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pp. 57-77

“In what way does the sooty tern serve mankind?” someone asked one of my old southern Illinois chums, later on when he was curator of birds at a museum. The sooty tern is a graceful black-and-white bird of the Dry Tortugas and surrounding waters. Some people would save the sooty tern based just on its grace and beauty ...

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4 | Who Will Save the Land

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pp. 78-96

Edward K. Warren made a fortune manufacturing corset stays from feathers rather than whale bone. Very likely he would have become as rich as John D. Rockefeller or Commodore Vanderbilt if corsets hadn’t gone out of fashion. Around 1880, Warren bought a beech-maple forest near his home town of Three Oaks, Michigan, and preserved it for its great natural beauty. ...

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5 | Choosing Land to Save

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pp. 97-114

Most land trusts consider themselves conservation organizations, but often the conservation is almost accidental. They save real estate and in doing so they save ecosystems and organisms, but many acquire land almost without a plan, and their stewardship often is either nonexistent or aimed mostly at improving public access. ...

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6 | Stewardship

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pp. 115-138

Conservation organizations today like to call what they do with their land stewardship rather than management. The difference, perhaps, is that “management” carries the connotation of arbitrary control; it is man as dominator. “Stewardship,” on the other hand, implies taking care of the land in accordance with some greater scheme. ...

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7 | How to Save Land

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pp. 139-162

The most important person in conservation by private organizations is the willing landowner. In Private Approaches to the Preservation of Open Land, Russell Brenneman followed “a long, unhealthy tradition in the law” and called his landowner Mr. Black.1 Let’s break slightly with that tradition and refer to our willing landowner as the Bieber family. ...

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8 | Defending Conservation Easements

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pp. 163-175

Every year, or oftener in some circumstances, a land trust needs to revisit every easement property. A major reason is to detect and document any violation since the last visit. It’s also important just to keep track of ongoing changes. Change is constant in the natural world. Hydrology changes, succession occurs, plant and animal ranges expand and contract. ...

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9 | The Land Trust Alliance

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pp. 176-184

On the last day of the 1981 National Consultation on Local Land Conservation in Cambridge, Massachusetts (see chapter 1), the participants visited some preserves of the Trustees of Reservations, had a clam and lobster bake, and talked about what the next step should be. Replete in the afterglow of the successful meeting, ...

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10 | The Nature Conservancy

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pp. 185-215

“The Nature Conservancy is turning into another God-damned Audubon Society,” Victor E. Shelford told me one August day in 1958. We were driving back to Champaign-Urbana from Indiana University. The Nature Conservancy (TNC) had met in Bloomington in conjunction with many other biology societies ...

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11 | Trust for Public Land

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pp. 216-226

The Trust for Public Land was founded in 1972, in San Francisco. It was a time when the mass movements for peace, civil rights, social justice, and the environment had already peaked, but didn’t know it yet. ...

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12 | Farmland Protection

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pp. 227-252

Land trusts generally tend to be cool, in the jazz sense. They approach their work—their newsletters, their dealings with land owners, their discussions with the unconvinced—in a relaxed, even mellow way. ...

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13 | Trails and Greenways

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pp. 253-268

People—like deer, foxes, and other mammals—make trails. In North America, Indians made trails. Explorers, traders, and pioneers made trails when they needed to go where the Indian trails didn’t. Where I live, in the Midwest, most roads today conform to the land survey grid; the occasional road that slants across the grid often is built on an old Indian trail. ...

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14 | A Diversity of Local Land Trusts

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pp. 269-289

The same flattening of diversity Odum describes has occurred in many aspects of human life.1 Along the same interstate where you see red-winged blackbirds and mourning doves at every rest area, you can eat the same breakfast sandwiches, pizza, and burgers every meal for 3,000 miles. ...

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15 | A Cleaner, Greener Land

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pp. 290-294

“Without a positive vision of the future, conservationists are doomed to fight, and probably lose, a series of rearguard actions,” cautioned a 1997 book on the ecological basis of conservation.1 Most of us have heard people say—perhaps said it ourselves—that the trouble with environmentalists is that they’re prophets of gloom and doom. ...


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pp. 295-322


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pp. 323-324


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pp. 325-326


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pp. 327-348

E-ISBN-13: 9781611685206
E-ISBN-10: 1611685206
Print-ISBN-13: 9781584653509

Page Count: 364
Publication Year: 2013