What Is a Land Trust?
There are many different kinds of land trusts, with various purposes, intentions, and structures. The website “coservationtools.org” offers the following excellent descriptions of what a land trust can be, which fit perfectly with the intentions and structure of the BBCLT: A land trust is a charitable organization that acquires land or conservation easements, or that stewards land or easements, to achieve one or more conservation purposes.
The conservation purposes may include protecting natural habitat, water quality, or scenic views; ensuring that the land is always available for farming, forestry, or outdoor recreational use; or protecting other values provided by open land.
Land trusts also work to ensure that land previously acquired or placed under easement is properly conserved. They seek to bring lasting conservation benefits (as permanent improvements) to communities.
Types of Conservation Work
Many (if not most) land trusts do more than acquire, hold, or transfer real estate interests. They may run education and science programs, maintain trails and other outdoor recreational facilities, help municipalities with land-use planning, manage historic sites, or engage in any number of other activities. Each organization makes its own decisions regarding its programming and priorities.
Land trusts may have one or more conservation priorities. They may work first and foremost to protect water quality. They may prioritize the protection of open space for new parks, scenic views, wildlife preserves, or neighborhood gardens. They may focus on conserving productive farmland or working forests. Some emphasize protecting biodiversity while others are more concerned with preserving hunting grounds.
The Non-Profit Structure
Most land trusts are completely independent, private charitable corporations that are tax exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. The board of directors or trustees, which directs and is responsible for the actions of a land trust, is comprised of individuals drawn from the communities the land trust serves.
The Big Bend Community Land Trust is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, and is designated as a ‘public charity’ by the Internal Revenue Service. A non-profit organization must be organized and operated exclusively for specific charitable purposes. No individual or shareholders may inure any of the profits generated by the organization. In addition, non-profit organizations cannot be an ‘action’ organization. They cannot attempt to influence legislation, participate in campaign activity, or hold a position on political candidates. Those who donate time, money or material to non-profit organizations may be eligible for a tax deduction.