Land trust

Land trusts have been around at least since Roman times but their clearest history is from the time of King Henry VIII in England. At that time, people used land trusts to hide their ownership of land so they would not have to serve in the military or fulfill other obligations of land ownership. For example, an elder uncle would hold his nephew's land so he would not have to join the king's army. To end this, King Henry in 1536 passed the Statute of Uses. The statute declared that if one party held land "for the use of" or in trust for another ("beneficiary"), then legal title was vested in the beneficiary. Obviously, if the statute had been given literal effect, there would be no trust law. Shortly after the statute was enacted, however, English courts declared that the statute only applied if the trust was passive, that is, the trustee didn't do anything but hold the land.

Land trusts have been actively used in Illinois for over a hundred years and in recent decades have begun to be used in other states. The creation of land trusts is not a recorded document, however the declaration of a trust is through a "deed to trustee". If the trust is filed as a public document, it removes all of the asset protection provided by the formation of the land trust. Robert Pless pioneered the use of the land trust that has been used by many firms throughout the United States since the early 1990s.

While Canada has fewer land trusts than the US, British Columbia has been a model for land trust development with more than 35 individual organizations operating in the province. In 1997, the Land Trust Alliance of British Columbia (LTABC) was started and has an impressive 20-year history of providing research, education, services and awareness to the public and its members.

The first conservation land trust The Trustees of Reservations was founded in 1891. The number of land trusts has steadily increased with most forming in the last 25 years. There are land trusts working in Canada (e.g. Wildlife Preservation Canada, Edmonton & Area Land Trust, Ecotrust Canada, Georgian Bay Land Trust and Thames Talbot Land Trust), Mexico, and other countries worldwide, in addition to international land trusts like The Nature Conservancy and the World Land Trust.

Land trusts conserve all different types of land. Some protect only farmland or ranchland, others forests, mountains, prairies, deserts, wildlife habitat, cultural resources such as archaeological sites or battlefields, urban parks, scenic corridors, coastlines, wetlands or waterways; it is up to each organization to decide what type of land to protect according to its mission. Some areas have extremely limited public access for the protection of sensitive wildlife, or to allow recovery of damaged ecosystems.

Many different strategies are used to provide this protection, including outright acquisition of the land by the trust. In other cases, the land will remain in private hands, but the trust will purchase a conservation easement on the property to prevent development, or purchase any mining, logging, drilling, or development rights on the land. Trusts also provide funding to assist like-minded private buyers or government organizations to purchase and protect the land forever.

A landowner that donates a conservation easement to a land trust gives up some of the rights associated with the land. For example, the landowner might give up the right to build additional structures, while retaining the right to grow crops. Future owners also will be bound by the conservation easement's terms. The land trust is responsible for making sure the easement's terms are followed. This is done through monitoring of the land.

A successful example of community land trusts is in Canada. The Land Trust Alliance of British Columbia LTABC is the oldest serving provincial alliance in Canada. More than 35 land trusts work in BC conserving forests, shorelines, wetlands, grasslands and other properties as well as many species at risk. Since 1997, LTABC has become a leader in the field providing education, research, publication, conferences, services to member land trusts and the public.

 

 


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