A land trust is a non-profit, tax-exempt voluntary organization. Though there may be variations in the purpose and goals of a land trust, all exist to preserve land from further development. A land trust may own outright the land it preserves. It may also be the recipient of a conservation restriction, which allows the land owner to retain possession but not to develop the land.
Preserving land is important for many reasons. Open space is an amenity that we all enjoy. It helps us understand our connection with the natural world, and gives us the peace and relaxation that we need in our busy contemporary lives. It also has important practical advantages. It protects our water supply and actively reduces pollution. It even saves us taxes, since the cost to a town of developed land is greater, through the costs of increased services and infrastructure, than the increased tax revenue from development. Read the article by Robert Levite on why land conservation is saving taxes for more details and references.
White Oak has primarily served the Town of Holden, but can help in other towns in the region where no local land trust exists. For example, in 1990 in Rutland we were able to facilitate the preservation of a dairy farm through the APR program, and we were able to do the same thing again for another Rutland dairy farm in 1995. We are happy to help with any land conservation question in the area. In other towns we may be able to put you in touch with your own local land trust.
Once a development plan is approved, it can not be stopped except in some unusual circumstances. If you know of land that might be developed, and you want to see it preserved, the time to take action is before it is sold for development. Remember that not all development is bad, and houses are needed. Development is undesirable when it damages natural resources, or strains the town's resources (for example water, schools, sewage, or roads). Read more in losing land.
We are always looking for volunteers for a variety of activities - everything from leading a Saturday morning hike to helping with data management. We have active stewardship and education committees, and we are particularly grateful for help from anyone with special skills or experience. We need help with GPS and mapping, graphic design, web site development, trail making, stewardship and many other tasks! Please contact us and let us know what your areas of interest are.
Conservation restrictions(CR) prohibit further development on a piece of land, but usually allow a wide range of other activities such as forestry, farming, or equestrian activities. A restriction can be donated or sold to a land trust or to a government entity. The owner can sell the land or bequeath it to heirs, but the restriction is binding on all future owners and is enforced by the owner of the restriction (typically a land trust). The restriction is recorded on the deed. Land owners who donate CRs are usually motivated by love of their land and the desire to see it permanently protected, but there are substantial reductions in estate and property taxes, and often income tax advantages as well.
Land protection can take many forms, depending on the needs and circumstances of the owner. White Oak can help you with land donations, conservation restrictions, sales to state agencies or conservation-minded buyers, or even with creative development plans which preserve the greater part of your land while still generating a substantial return for the owner. There are tax advantages associated with most methods of land protection.
Land Conservation Options: A Guide for Massachusetts Landowners. Published by the Trustees of Reservations. Ask us for a copy. White Oak has a folder of reprints on land conservation which we will send out free to members on request.
Beyond Death and Taxes by Gregory Englund, 1995. Estate Planning Press, PO Box 97, Boston, MA 02101 Read more about it or buy the book at this site.
Preserving Family Lands: A Landowner’s Introduction to Tax Issues and Other Considerations, I and II, by Stephen Small, 1990, 1995. Available from his web site at this URL www.stevesmall.com , or from the Land Trust Alliance.
If you are a woodland owner and would like to know more about your woodland and how to manage it, the Department of Environmental Management's Forest Stewardship Program can help you. This educational non-regulatory program is designed to help landowners protect the inherent ecosystem values of their forest. Recognizing the public benefits of good stewardship on private forest land, the Massachusetts Forest Stewardship Program (MFSP) supports and encourages private forest landowners' efforts to manage, enjoy, and care for their land using a long-term approach.
To enroll in the Stewardship Program you will engage a licensed consulting forester to develop a 10-year forest management plan based on your goals. This Forest Stewardship Plan will help you understand the potential of your woodlands. It documents management options and practices designed to maintain the land in a productive and healthy condition for the next generation. Soil and water quality, wildlife and fish habitat, timber and other wood products, and outdoor recreation are among the many factors taken into account. It recommends actions that will protect or increase the environmental values of the land while yielding desired social or economic benefits. The benefits of your wise decisions and actions will extend far beyond the borders of your property!
The finished Stewardship Plan is presented to you in a 3-ring binder that contains a variety of supporting materials on pertinent topics (e.g. wildlife habitat management, timber harvesting regulations, websites for landowners, and estate planning.)
Who is eligible to participate? Individuals, joint owners, groups and associations, non-profits, and corporations without publicly traded stock are all eligible. There is no minimum acreage, except that properties of less than 10 acres are not eligible for Forest Stewardship Plan preparation cost-sharing. Participating landowners may own a maximum of 1,000 acres, (or up to 5,000 acres with a special waiver). Municipal governments are encouraged to develop Stewardship Plans for their Town Forests or Conservation Commission woodlands, but are not eligible for cost-sharing.
Is Financial Assistance Available? Landowners of 10 acres or more who do not already have some type of management plan in place for their property are eligible to receive cost-sharing to help pay for the plan development. The cost-sharing is based on the acreage you own. Once enrolled, landowners are eligible to apply for further cost-sharing for practices to implement their plans, when funding is available. Funding is variable, but practices eligible for cost sharing in the past have included trail building, wildlife clearings, pruning, woodland thinning, abandoned field reclamation, and invasive species control.
For more information on the Forest Stewardship Program from the Mass state website click here.