Why a private land trust?
Published: Monday, January 8, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 7, 2007 at 11:32 p.m.
Thank you, Gainesville Sun, for the excellent article about the land purchased for conservation in Alachua County (Sunday, Dec. 31). I think some may be confused, however, about the difference between Alachua County Forever, which is a county (public) land buying program supported by tax dollars and Alachua Conservation Trust, which is a private land trust.
I would like to give some insight as to what a private land trust is and what they do.
Non-profit land trusts have multiplied by leaps and bounds over the past few years, with 1,500 now operating in the U.S. Quite simply, they are private organizations that can acquire lands for conservation or protection quickly, using creative tools. As the pace of development has accelerated, so has the need for these organizations.
The vast majority are not-for- profit tax-exempt organizations and can accept land and monetary donations and conservation easements on lands. The donor, therefore, can get tax deductions for those contributions.
They come in all kinds of shapes and forms, from the huge multi billion dollar non-profit organizations, like The Nature Conservancy and Trust for Public Lands, to small, one county or even just one city organizations with an all-volunteer staff.
The majority organize to protect the last great places in this country, either for protection of wildlife, for historic preservation, for agricultural conservation, or for protection of nature-based recreational areas.
Not only do they accept donations of lands and money to purchase lands, they write grants to try to acquire money from state agencies or philanthropic organizations to purchase lands for protection.
They very often lobby as well, in all forms of government from Congress to the tiny village council, advocating for government purchase of lands for protection or for legislation to protect lands that are already in public ownership.
We are very fortunate to have three conservation land trusts that operate locally in our region. One is Alachua Conservation Trust, an 18-year-old organization that has saved thousands of acres of land in and around Alachua County. They have done this through innumerable methods, including grants, donations and bridge loans.
They have protected land from the inner city of Gainesville (land on Hogtown Creek) to the Gulf coast of Florida, from Newnans Lake to the historic Haile Plantation. The mission of Alachua Conservation Trust (ACT) is to protect the natural, historic, scenic and recreational resources in and around Alachua County, Florida. (Visit www.alachua conservationtrust.org for more information.)
Another is Conservation Trust for Florida. Based in Alachua County as well, this group was founded by David Carr in 1999 and has protected 5,000 acres through public land conservation programs and conservation easements. The CTF emphasizes protecting working rural landscapes. According to its mission statement: "The mission of the Conservation Trust for Florida is to protect the rural landscapes of Florida. We focus on farms, ranches, working forests, and natural areas that provide landscape connections."
Some of the places they have been working on preserving include the beautiful and historic Evinston/Orange Lake area as well as the magnificent horse country in Marion County. They are also focused on protecting large landscape level projects and corridors for wildlife between the Ocala National Forest and the Osceola National Forest as well as connections to the Goethe State Forest. (Go to www.conserve florida.org for more information.)
The newest of the regional private land trusts is the Putnam Land Conservancy, just incorporated in the spring of 2006. This fledgling, all-volunteer group is centered in Putnam County. Its emphasis is on protecting the significant ecological lands of Putnam County and the counties adjoining it.
It's mission statement is "Conserving land and water for people and wildlife." The organization has just submitted its first grant application for land that would contribute to an extension of the Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail eastward and have just started their first fundraising drive. (See www.putnamlandconservancy.org for more information.)
Whatever political or philosophical leanings you may have, most will agree that as our population increases more land will need to be protected and the best way to do that is to have the public own it. Land trusts generally avoid becoming directly involved in the controversies surrounding comprehensive plans, re-zonings, and development permits - instead, they focus on how to use real estate tools and philanthropy to save our remaining natural resources.
Kathy Cantwell is the Public Lands Chair for Suwannee-St Johns Sierra Club of Gainesville.
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