The Nuts and Bolts of Land Trusts

Non-profit conservancies can work with land holders to protect critical areas.

by Sheila Harrington

Land trusts are non-profit, often charitable, conservancies that work with land holders to protect areas that are critical to the health and survival of threatened animals, plants, and wetlands, as well as areas of cultural or historical significance.

As human settlement and development continue to spread, we are losing forever birds, animals, plants and natural areas at an alarming rate.

To ensure their survival and ours, we must protect the delicate fabric of nature that supports our lives. Throughout North America, there is a growing commitment to preserve the sensitive areas that maintain the integrity of the natural world.

Coming from a long line of do-it-yourselfers, I was delighted to become involved in this fastest-growing sector of the environmental community.

Why have 40 new Land Trusts been formed in the last 10 years? Well, it's a way for communities and individuals to do something themselves, without encountering a lot of red tape. And it requires that do-it-yourself spirit that long ago tired of being caught in the quagmire of "public process."

Not that public process isn't necessary sometimes, it's just that protecting key areas of habitat usually means working quickly, and it often involves lands that have been put into private hands: the valley bottoms and wetlands that contain the most biodiversity, those boundaries where creatures and humans meet.

Land Trusts work in three ways: through Stewardship Programs, or Holding Conservation Covenants, or by outright acquisition.

Firstly, the voluntary nature of Land Owner Contact Programs (LOCP) enables the Land Trust or Conservancy to select specific areas that contain key habitat or threatened species. An educational program is developed to help land holders identify the native species, and replant or protect them in tandem with their human land use, and often, receive public recognition for doing so with a Stewardship Plaque. Often this program leads to the second method of protection, the Conservation Covenant.

Usually, links between private protected lands and protected Crown lands are made in order to increase wildlife corridors, watershed integrity, or to fit within a larger bioregional strategy.

Conservation Covenants became a functional legal tool available to non-government organizations in British Columbia in 1995. Similar tools have been available in the US and elsewhere in Canada, and are called Conservation Easements.

These Conservation covenants or easements are legal agreements made between a current land owner and a designated land trust organization; they are registered on title to the land, and will remain in effect after the land is sold or transferred, binding future owners of the land to the terms of the covenant

Protecting key areas of habitat usually means working quickly …

Often, two land trusts will share the legal responsibility of protecting, monitoring, and defending the covenant. An annual site visit and report are often made, creating an ongoing record of the land's condition.

The third method Land Trusts use to preserve land is outright purchase.

This happens when lands considered significant to a community are threatened, as in the recent acquisition by The Land Conservancy (TLC) of BC of Mathews Point on Active Pass, Galiano Island.

This 66-acre area includes spectacular bluffs, oak meadows, rare dry-zone vegetation, essential eagle and migrating bird habitat, a large portion of natural forest, and a quarter-mile-long sandy beach along Active Pass.

Working with the local community, and with the local Capital Regional District, TLC managed to raise the required $150,000 needed to match the Regional District's funds. Now this area can link with other important areas protected by other Conservation groups on Galiano Island, including the Galiano Island Conservancy, Islands Trust Fund, The Nature Conservancy of Canada, the Garry Oak Meadow Preservation Society, and the Galiano Club.

Land trusts preserve or enhance habitat, species, and stream side areas within existing farms, ranches, or forests. Often these land uses require extensive areas that are difficult for a single landowner to buy, manage, or maintain.

Consequently, Land Trusts can help preserve sustainable food and forest lands by working in partnership with the landowners to protect habitat values, while restricting development or practices that would damage the natural or cultural features of the land.

This could involve specifying future subdivision, working with groups such as Silva Forest Foundation to create a Forest Management Plan, or designating certain areas for protection, while allowing other rights to accessory buildings or the growing of certain crops.

In some cases, such as with the Delta Farmland and Wildlife Trust, a farmer can be given a financial incentive for growing winter cover crops or retaining wildlife areas.

It strikes a chord deep within me– working with people who are actively preserving sensitive areas, and some that are being used in conjunction with our human needs.

The Land Trust Alliance of British Columbia was formed in 1997. We provide education, research, resources, and support services, which strengthen the objectives of land trusts, conservancies, and other agencies, organizations, and individuals dedicated to preserving and enhancing the quality of our natural and cultural heritage.

Working with Land Trusts, we still have time to preserve and enhance this heritage for the benefit of our children and all other creatures.

* To learn more, contact the Land Trust Alliance of British Columbia, #204 – 338 Lower Ganges Road, Salt Spring Island, BC V8K 2V3; phone: (250)538-0112; fax: (250)538-0172;;

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