State of Private Land Conservation in Maine 2008
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State of Private Land Conservation in Maine 2008

Patrick Roche, Tarini Manchanda and Will Tyson

Executive summary

Our report focuses on private land conservation in Maine, and specifically the role of land trusts.  We conducted a literature and data review and then carried out a survey of land trusts websites in order to further understand their missions and operating procedures.  We find a large difference exists between statewide and local land trusts both in area conserved and their conservation goals.  Both statewide and local land trusts, however, consistently place importance on public access.  The data also reveal a lack of specific information about land trust operating methods, which we feel reflects poor organizational transparency.  From these findings, we draw implications on the role and effectiveness of land trusts and predict scenarios for the future role of land trusts based on variables of government conservation, public support, and funding.  We then recommend that land trusts continue to encourage public access, to improve their transparency measures, and to engage in more collaborative planning. 

Introduction

Private land conservation is conservation initiated by the private sector.  Either independently or collectively, private landowners, communities, cooperatives, and businesses organize to preserve land.  They accomplish this through the formation of land trusts, private reserves, and conservation easements (Aldrich Wyerman 2006).  In Maine, land trusts specifically have proliferated, and the scope of their land protection now exceeds that of federal and state governments (MSPO 2008).  This report focuses on the role of land trusts in Maine's burgeoning private land conservation movement.

History

Land trusts have existed for over a century, and as of 2005 a total of 1,667 land trusts existed in the United States.  The first land trust, founded in 1891 in Massachusetts, was called the Trustees of Public Reservations.  Soon after, in 1901, Charles W.  Eliot founded Maine's first land trust, the Hancock County Trustees of Public Reservations.  It operated on Mount Desert Island and was formed in response to the loss of public spaces due to development (Brewer 2003).  Few new land trusts established themselves in the coming decades, however, as the Great Depression, World War II and successful government conservation hampered interest in private land conservation.  By the mid 1960s, the expanding environmental movement led to a growth in new land trusts.  Between 1985 and 1988, the rate of growth increased to 16% per year and remained high through 1994.  Growth in this time period was fueled by a loss of faith in the government's ability to adequately protect land and an increase in communication among land trusts that helped foster a national land trust community (Brewer 2003).  The fastest growth has occurred most recently, however, with a 32% increase in the number of land trusts between 2000 and 2005 (Aldrich and Wyerman 2006).

Land Trust Characteristics

Interestingly, no legal definition for land trusts exists, so a broad range of institutions can call themselves land trusts without meeting any specific criteria (Merenlender et al. 2004).  A general sense of what constitutes a land trust, however, is well established.  The Land Trust Alliance's definition represents this collective understanding well: a land trust is "a non-profit organization that, as all or part of its mission, actively works to conserve land by undertaking or assisting in land or conservation easement acquisition, or by its stewardship of such land or easements" (LTA 2005).  These trusts typically rely heavily on donations of time and money to support their operations.  Staff size varies with the size of the land trust and some may not have any staff at all.  It is important to note that some land trusts are classified as community based land trusts, focused on providing affordable housing.  This report only examines conservation oriented land trusts.

Land trusts pursue land acquisitions through three broad strategies: outright purchase of land (fee owned land), purchase of conservation easements, or donations from private landowners.  A conservation easement "is a restriction placed on a piece of property" that permanently prohibits certain land uses, such as development (TNC 2008).  Landowners may donate or sell conservation easements to a third party, usually a land trust.  The landowner retains ownership of the property, but with restricted rights that will apply to all future landowners.  The land trust holds only the right to enforce the provisions of the conservation easement (Gustanski and Squires 2000). 

Conservation easements and fee owned lands occur in a wide variety of sizes.  Large land holdings include the Nature Conservancy's 189,000 acre parcel around the St.  John River in Northern Maine and the Forest Society of Maine's 762,192 acre Pingree conservation easement, the largest in US history (Clark and Howell 2007).  Many local land trusts, however, hold conservation easements and fee owned lands on parcels as small as an acre.

While private individuals can conserve land through their own acquisition, land trusts are notably different.  Individually conserved lands have no guarantee of preservation if the landowner changes.  Even deed restrictions can be easily overturned once the grantor is deceased or if the landowner faces economic hardships (Marchetti Ponte 2001).  Land trusts, however, place land under conservation and hold easement enforcement rights permanently. 

Land Trusts' Role in Maine

With 90% of Maine's land in private ownership (Acheson 2006), private land conservation through land trusts has and will likely continue to play a large role in conserving the state's natural resources. Traditionally, the government plays a minor role in Maine's land ownership.  Even the state's two largest parks, Baxter State Park and Acadia National Park, were created from land donated by private landowners (Pidot 2008).  Typically, private landowners have conserved land and provided public access while retaining ownership of all property rights.  This precedent was set primarily by the timber industry, in which a few companies owned the majority of forestland, and all had a vested interest in keeping their land undeveloped.  Due to the large size of their holdings, the companies would also allow informal, low-impact recreational access on their properties (Brookings 2006, Pidot 2008). 

Changing land ownership patterns now threaten these external benefits that the timber companies once provided. Numerous real estate investment trusts and other financial investors increasingly own the large parcels formerly controlled by a few timber companies, and parcel sizes have decreased as a result.  In contrast to the timber industry, these investment trusts favor development as the best return on their investment - development that would decrease open space and publicly accessible land.  In fact, from 1994 to 2005, timber industry land ownership in the 9.3 million acre Unorganized Territory decreased from 59.2% to just 15.5%, while investment trust ownership jumped from 3.2% to 32.6%.  Also, development has spread across the state in general, leading to significant suburban sprawl (Brookings 2006).  This atmosphere in which land use decisions are being made places particular importance on the role of land trusts, which have the capacity to help fill the void of industrial or governmental conservation leadership.  Land trusts, however, are under no obligation to allow public access to their fee owned lands or conservation easements. 

Focus of the Report

The number of land trusts and their rate of growth are on the rise in Maine.  Collectively, these land trusts protect over 1.97 million acres of land, and the rate of acquisition continues to increase (MSPO 2008).  Unfortunately, information about land trusts, their protected lands, and their operations has not kept pace with protected land growth.  As Merenlender et al. (2004) find, one cannot say with certainty what types of property land trusts are conserving or who benefits from their preservation.  This presents a potential problem, because without adequate data and understanding, land trusts' conservation may have unintended consequences.

To address this lack of data, we devised and conducted a survey of land trust websites in Maine. The goal of this survey was to better understand how land trusts interact with the public and the types of information they distribute.  Additionally, we analyzed previously complied data on the state of land trusts and their land protection in Maine, to allow us to contextualize our findings. 

In this report, we present the relevant legislation affecting land trusts and conservation easements and then outline the main stakeholders in Maine's private land conservation movement.  We discuss the methods of data collection, present the results and then analyze their implications.  From this we develop possible scenarios for the future role of land trusts based on variables of government conservation, public support, and funding.  We conclude with a summary of our findings and recommendations.

Laws and Institutions

Table 4.1 Federal laws relating to private land conservation.  


Table 4.2 Maine laws relating to land trusts and conservation easements.

Land trusts have no legal definition, but specific laws and regulations govern their operating procedures.  Of particular importance is the use of conservation easements, a relatively new tool which the law explicitly defines.  As such it is important to clarify the potential impacts that these laws have on land trust operations and private land conservation in general.  Likewise, it is also important to discuss the groups and institutions which impact and are affected by private land conservation.

Federal Laws

Although the first land trusts date back to the 19th century, federal legislation did not specifically address them until conservation easements became a popular tool for conservation.  Federal law regarding conservation easements serves primarily as a guideline, shaping state policy on private land conservation.  Conservation contributions are addressed by the Federal Government primarily through a few pieces of legislation, which have been supplemented by minor updates.  The first federal law that addresses conservation easements is the Tax Reform Act of 1976.  This act recognizes conservation easements as tax deductible, conservation contributions, a type of charitable gift, and the policy has since been clarified and updated with additional incentives for conservation.  The Internal Revenue Code § 170 (h) defines a conservation contribution as one that involves a real property interest donated to a qualified organization for the exclusive purpose of conservation (Byers and Ponte 2005).  In 2006, the Pension Protection Act strengthened the incentive to donate conservation easements by increasing the tax deduction generated by such a donation (Private Land Owner Network 2006). 

In 1981, the Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws drafted a model act for states to approve, known as the Uniform Conservation Easement Act (UCEA).  Endorsed by the American Bar Association in 1982, UCEA defines conservation easements as non-possessory interests in real land, meaning that the holder of the easement does not own the land, but rather the right to impose restrictions and affirmative duties on the landowner (Gustanski and Squires 2000).  UCEA also specifically defines the terms of conservation easements, explains the issues regarding their creation and duration, and notes when judicial action is allowed.  In the context of these guidelines Maine has defined its own state policy regarding private land conservation

State Laws

Since the mid-1960s, Maine has earned a reputation as a national leader in conservation easements.  This started with the adoption of a statute that removed many of the common law barriers to the implementation of conservation easements.  The Legislature then amended the statute in 1983 to allow non-profit corporations and the government to hold the easements.  The most sweeping legislation passed in 1985, when Maine passed its unique version of UCEA.  Most recently, in September, 2007, the Legislature accepted the Act to Amend the Conservation Easement Laws, which revised the 1985 UCEA based upon the experiences and lessons of the last several decades (Gustanski and Squires 2000).

Maine's UCEA: 1985 and 2007 Amendments

Maine's UCEA and the 2007 amendments differ in a number of ways from the generic UCEA recommendations.  First, Maine grants the right to initiate or intervene in litigation concerning a conservation easement to the landowner, the easement holder, any third party with enforcement rights and the Attorney General.  The generic UCEA suggests that "any other person identified by the law" should be able to initiate or intervene in litigation.  Maine legislators, however, did not include this clause because they felt that allowing anyone to take legal action against the landowners would discourage the donation of land (Gustanski and Squires 2000).  The 2007 amendments also granted the Attorney General the right to act and intervene but only in special circumstances when the easement holders cannot or will not enforce the conservation easement.  Additionally, as of 2007 state agencies have the right to intervene in, but not initiate, legal action.  Granting the action and intervention power to the Attorney General and state agencies, respectively, adds a powerful safety net of oversight to Maine's conservation easements.  

Easement Holders

Careful selection of easement holders helps conservation easements endure in perpetuity.  Maine only allows governments, charitable trusts and non-profit corporations to hold conservation easements.  Governments are perhaps the most enduring entity, and trusts and non-profits, by law, must enforce their easements or lose their tax-exempt status.  Additionally, if dissolved, non-profits and charities must surrender their holdings to other institutions with goals similar to their own.  In the case of a land trust, they would likely give their easement holdings to another land trust for conservation.  Most notably, Maine bars associations from holding conservation easements.  Unlike land trusts, associations are not legally-established corporations or partnerships and are not subject to either of these aforementioned requirements (Gustanski and Squires 2000, World Wide Legal Information 2007).

Amendments and Termination

Maine revised the cy pres, or changed conditions, clause of UCEA (Gustanski and Squires 2000).  Presently, it permits the court to amend or terminate a conservation easement in a way that "materially detracts" from the intended conservation values.  It may only do so, however, if changed conditions have rendered the easement either no longer in the public interest or unable to serve the publicly beneficial conservation purposes of the easement.  This clause would apply in the case of a motion to terminate a conservation easement because the species it was designed to protect went extinct.  Clearly, the easement cannot fulfill its original purpose, but the courts must still uphold the easement if the land has other conservation values that benefit the public.  Maine's UCEA also requires that the conservation easement include a statement acknowledging that the easement holder must agree to any amendments.  This is important because landowners and the easement holders, typically land trusts, may have differing opinions on land use, especially as land ownership changes over time (Gustanski and Squires 2000).  Furthermore, one cannot use economic arguments (e.g., the land would generate more tax revenue as a sub-division) to argue that the easement is not in the public interest.  Lastly, Maine's UCEA discourages easement termination by granting the court the power to award monetary damages to the holder of an easement in the case of termination.  

Monitoring and Failure to Comply

The 2007 additions to Maine's UCEA include policies for monitoring and failing to comply.  Easement holders must monitor each property at least once every three years and prepare and retain a written report, available to the landowner upon request.  The legislation does not, however, define the method of monitoring.  Additionally, failure to comply with the requirements of the Act, on the part of the landowner or easement holder, does not invalidate the easement.  This ensures the conservation easement endures even if a land trust fails in their oversight duties. 

Easement Funding

The State of Maine primarily funds land conservation through the Land for Maine's Future (LMF) Program.  Established in 1987 by the Land for Maine's Future Act, it allows the State to fund governments, land trusts, and charitable nonprofit organizations for the purpose of purchasing land and conservation easements.  In its 21 year history, the legislature has approved the issuance of four bonds, totaling $117 million, which were used to acquire 490,000 acres in fee owned land and 247,000 acres of land under conservation easements (MSPO 2006).  Eligible land must typically allow public access, including hunting and fishing, and it will preferably protect rare species, scenic beauty, or a public water supply.  Additionally, the act mandates that the LMF board prioritize parcels that guarantee motorized public access.  Importantly, private funding must supply a one-third match for any public funds provided.

The Voluntary Municipal Farm Support Program allows farmers to receive annual payments from their municipality in return for the donation of a conservation easement restricting all land uses except those related to agriculture.  The payments will be equal to the value of 100% of their annual property taxes, and the easement must restrict development to only agricultural related development for at least 20 years.  

Public Access to Private Land Laws

Public Access

Maine law conflicts with common law concerning public access to private lands.  Originally a Massachusetts ordinance in 1641, the Great Ponds Law was adopted by Maine in 1820 when Maine gained statehood.  The law permits on-foot access through unimproved lands (undeveloped) to ponds of at least 10 acres, even if those lands are private (Acheson 2006).  It also empowers the Attorney General to prosecute those who deny this right.  Improved lands, such as a residence's yard or farmland, are not subject to this allowance (Mills 2004).  A "well developed body of common law," however, guarantees private landowners the right to restrict others from their property, and a Maine statute allows small landowners to prohibit access and to prosecute violators (Acheson 2006).   

Encouraging Public Access

Through the Landowner Liability Act, Maine encourages private landowners to allow public access.  Specifically, the act absolves landowners from nearly all responsibility and liability for injuries to persons or their property that pass through or use their land, regardless of whether they granted permission to enter.  A landowner is still liable, however, in the rare case that they fail to guard or warn against a hazardous condition, which is usually a clearly recognizable, man-made hazard (MDIFW 2007).

Property Value Laws

According to the Current-Use Tax law, when calculating property value in Maine, assessors must consider only the value that "arises from presently possible land use alternatives" for that individual parcel.  Land encumbered by a conservation easement inherently has fewer land use alternatives available; typically, the more restrictive the easement, the more the assessed property value will decrease.  Decreases in property value will therefore decrease property taxes, which can encourage the use of conservation easements.

Under the Open Space Tax law, landowners can reduce their assessed property values by 50%, 70%, or 95% by placing an Open Space conservation easement on their property.  Open space is defined as a parcel of any size without development or improvement that benefits the public by "conserving scenic resources; enhancing public recreation opportunities; promoting game management; or preserving wildlife or wildlife habitat".  By prohibiting development with a conservation easement, the land is designated as "permanently protected" and eligible for a 50% reduction from the standard value.   Landowners who create "forever wild" open space, by allowing hunting, fishing, and low-impact outdoor recreation in the easement receive an additional 20% reduction (70% total).  Permitting daytime public access for non-motorized and non-destructive public uses can further reduce the property value by 25% (95% total).  Landowners may, but are not required to, allow snowmobiling, overnight use or other more intensive activities.

Relevant Cases

Maine courts have not set major precedents or made controversial interpretations of any statute with regards to conservation easements.  Many cases do, however, highlight the strengths and weakness of conservation easements.  Strengths include the ability to successfully monitor and enforce easements in court (Windham Land Trust v. Jeffords, et al. 2008) and to achieve smart development by protecting small town character while allowing for growth (Conservation Law Foundation v. Town of Lincolnsville 2001); weakness include the necessity for extremely specific and foresighted language in the easement so that the intent of the easement is clear and cannot be circumvented by alternative interpretations (Thaxter et al. v City of Portland et al. 2008).

Although courts have set precedent regarding public access to private land, a conflict between common law and the Great Ponds Law still exists.  In 1950 and 1952, State Supreme Court decisions upheld the access rights of the Great Ponds Law.  Since then, however, no major revision has occurred.  According to Acheson (2006), if tested in court today it is uncertain whose rights, the public or the private landowners, would prevail.

Stakeholders

In addition to the role of the government, private landowners, and land trusts, stakeholders in private land conservation include residents, taxpayers, farmers, the timber industry, hunters, and tourists.  Additionally, habitat quality and biodiversity richness may vary on privately conserved lands, depending on the land use specified in conservation easements.  The following section describes the benefits and costs of conservation easements to the various stakeholders. 

Residents and Taxpayers

Conservation land potentially create benefits for all residents and visitors of Maine, by maintaining open spaces, clean air and water; controlling erosion; providing habitat for biodiversity; and facilitating oxygen exchange.  Furthermore, when a landowner places a conservation easement on his or her property, he or she pays lower property taxes (refer to Open Space and Current Use Tax laws, Table 4.2). 

A conservation easement, however, can increase property taxes on neighboring lands, because the proximity to undeveloped areas increases the value of the property (Anderson and King 2004).  High property taxes may also encourage landowners to develop their land in order to increase their income and afford higher taxes (Stockford 1990). 

Additionally, if conservation easements decrease the value of property, total property tax revenue may decrease for a town.  This could lead to cuts in different areas of public spending.  Studies by the Maine Coastal Land Trust show that easement restrictions result in a drop in the fair market value of land by as much as 90%.  Moreover, local tax assessments may not always correctly take easement variations into account when calculating the tax deductions for Maine land holders (Stockford 1990). 

Farmers

Currently, the average cost of farm land in Maine has risen to $1,850 per acre, while farm income has stagnated at $81 per acre (Brookings 2006).  Clearly, farming is less economically viable than other land uses.  Therefore, property tax reductions from conservation easements can play an important role in maintaining agriculture as a viable industry in Maine (see Voluntary Municipal Farm Support Act 2007, Table 4.1).  Moreover, private conservation land that surrounds farms can benefit farmers by maintaining important ecosystem services, such as habitat for pollinators, decreased erosion, and enhanced water quality.  By providing both ecological and financial benefits, private land conservation, and specifically conservation easements, can assist farmers.

Timber Industry

The timber industry owned 43.7% less land in 2005 than it did in 1994, due to declining profitability in the domestic timber market (Brookings 2006).  This opens up new possibilities for private land conservation.  As with farmers, conservation easements on forest land can decrease property value by allowing only timber harvesting, and thereby improve the financial viability of logging in Maine.  Furthermore, the decline in timber industry holdings has been met by an increase in land holdings by real estate investment trusts, which limit public access.  This potentially implies that land trusts are placed with a higher burden to conserve lands as the land available for conservation drops (Brookings 2006).   

Tourism

Maine's quality of place - its picturesque forests, scenery, and small towns - attracts many tourists.  This tourism generates an estimated 7% of the gross state product, 70,000 jobs, and $340 million per year in state revenues. Growing suburbanization and unplanned development currently threaten Maine's quality of place.  The Brookings report (2006) recommends increased funding to land trusts through the LMF program as a means to continue to attract tourists.  With their demand for the state's traditional small town life and scenery, these tourists create a continued need for land trust based conservation in the state. 

Hunters

Private conservation actors in Maine include hunters because they provide crucial conservation funds to wildlife agencies through a nationwide tax on firearms.  Additionally, organizations with interests in hunting can also have interests in conserving habitat critical to the health and size of wildlife (MDIFW 2004).  The Sportsman's Alliance of Maine, for example, has a land trust division that works to conserve land while advocating for Maine's hunters and gun owners. Conversely, certain conservation easements restrict hunting on Maine's conservation lands.  In light of Maine's tradition of public access and hunting on private lands, a conflict of interests arises between the $321 million hunting industry in Maine (as of 2001) that depends on hunting wildlife and Maine's quality of place that also depends on the preservation of wildlife (Acheson 2006).   Methods

The data in this report were compiled from two separate efforts.  First, we conducted a literature and data review on the subject of land trusts to discern the current status and trends of the movement.  Secondly, we designed and conducted a survey of land trust websites in Maine, in order to understand the extent and content of publicly available information about the land trusts and their protected lands.  We chose to analyze websites, because they are the lowest-cost means for land trusts to disseminate information about their activities to the largest audience.  Likewise, the web is one of the most easily accessible and most universal methods of public information gathering.

We identified 103 land trusts with operations in Maine.  This number originated from data collected by the MSPO on non-profits with land holdings in Maine.  We then cross-referenced this list with the land trusts named on the Maine Land Trust Network (MLTN) website.  We removed organizations from the MSPO list of land trusts if they neither appeared on MLTN's website listing nor had MSPO-listed holdings. 

From our list of 103 land trusts, we first searched for a unique website for each.  If the land trust had a website we examined it for the existence of specific variables from our survey.  We recorded the following variables as either present (1) or absent (0): mission statement, mission statement key words, a list of board members, educational or recreational events, information for landowners on how to conserve their land through land trusts, prioritization strategy and prioritization strategy key words.  We recorded other variables as a sum of the total count.  These include descriptions of total parcels, fee owned parcels, and conservation easement parcels; and publicly accessible total parcels, fee owned parcels, and conservation easement parcels.  See Appendix A for the specific language detailing how and when a specific variable was recorded as "present" or "absent" or received a count.

Methods

The data in this report were compiled from two separate efforts.  First, we conducted a literature and data review on the subject of land trusts to discern the current status and trends of the land trust movement.  Second, we designed and conducted a systematic review of Maine land trust websites to understand the extent and content of publicly available informatin about the land trusts and their protected lands. We chose to analyze websites because they are the lowest-cost means for land trusts to disseminate information about their activities to the largest audience.  Likewise, the Internet is one of the most easily accessible and most universal methods of public information gathering.  We identified 103 land trusts with operations in Maine.  This number originated from data collected by MSPO on non-profits with land holdings in Maine. We then cross referenced this list with the land trusts named on the Maine Land Trust Network (MLTN) website (MLTN 2008).  We removed organizations from the MSPO list of land trusts if they neither appeared on MLTN´s website listing nor had MSPO-listed holdings.                                                                                                                                      

From our list of 103 land trusts, we first searched for a unique website for each.  If the land trust had a website, we recorded the following variables as either present (1) or absent (0): mission statement, mission statement key words, a list of board members, educational or recreational events, information for landowners on how to conserve their land through land trusts, prioritization strategy and prioritization strategy key words.  We also recorded total parcels, fee owned parcels, and conservation easement parcels; and publicly accessible total parcels, fee owned parcels, and conservation easement parcels.  See Appendix A for the specific language detailling how and when a specific variable was recorded as ¨present¨or ¨absent¨ or received a count.                               

Private Land Conservation in Maine

Quantity and Composition of Protected Lands and Land Trusts

According to MSPO, land trusts currently protect 9.67% of land in Maine, approximately 1.97 million acres.  Federal, state, and municipal governments protect an additional 7.9%, totaling 1.61 million acres.  This means that cumulatively 17.6% of Maine's 20.4 million acres are conserved.  Divided into two categories, this land conserved land may be classified as conservation easements or fee owned land.  About 53% of conserved land remains protected under conservation easement, with the remaining 47% fee owned (MSPO 2008).  Land trusts hold the majority of conservation easements.  Of the 1.91 million acres under conservation easement, they control 82.3%.  Land trusts, however, only control 24% of fee owned land.

Of the 103 land trusts operating in Maine, 13 operate statewide and 90 operate locally or regionally within the state.  Although eight land trusts existed prior to 1970, a consistent rate of establishment appeared only afterwards.  As Figure 4.1 demonstrates, the rate of land trust establishment has varied over time, with the fastest growth rate of 5.3 land trusts per year occurring between 1984 and 1991.  Prior to this period, the number of land trusts grew at a rate of 1.32 per year, and since this period they have grown by 2.23 per year. 

 
Figure 4.1. Timeline of land trust establishment and cumulative growth in Maine from 1970 to 2006 (MSPO 2008).

Conservation easements represent the vast majority of land trust holdings: 1.57 million acres are in conservation easements, compared to 400,000 acres owned in fee (MSPO 2008).  Figure 4.2 illustrates that local land trusts outnumber statewide trusts but they control far less land.  As a result, in comparison to local land trusts, the average statewide land trust parcel is 96 times larger for easements and 15 times larger for fee-owned land.  Among statewide land trusts, the ratio of easement acreage to fee is 4.6, yet among local land trusts it is 0.7.  This indicates that statewide trusts hold more land in easement than fee, with the opposite true for local land trusts (MSPO 2006).  As Figure 4.3 shows, although the growth rate of conservation easements was quite similar to that of fee owned lands for most on the 1990s, it now far outpaces it.

 
Figure 4.2 Comparison of statewide and local land trusts by number of trusts and percent of privately conserved land held (MSPO 2008).


Figure 4.3 Cumulative public and private acres protected through conservation easements and fee purchases in Maine from 1989 to 2006 (Clark and Howell 2006).

The Pingree conservation easement heavily influences the average parcel size for statewide trusts.  Held by the New England Forestry Foundation, it is the largest in US history at 762,192 acres, and it represents that first sharp increase in the rate of conservation easement growth in Maine (Figure 4.3).  Even without the Pingree easement, however, the patterns still hold: for easements, the average statewide land trust parcel is 48 times larger than the average local land trust parcel, moreover the ratio of easement acreage to fee is still 2.3 for statewide trusts.              

Location of Protected Land and Land Trusts

Land trust headquarters are predominantly located in areas of relatively high population density and high median income (Figure 4.4 and 4.5).  This corresponds with previously identified trends of general land trust location (Brewer 2003).  Most the high population density and median income areas occur in the south of Maine and along the coastline.  Even many statewide land trusts, which tend to own land in the northern and western parts of the state, have primary offices in Portland, Augusta, and Bangor. 
 
Figure 4.4 Population density by census block and land trust office locations in Maine. Two statewide land trusts are located in Boston, MA and one local land trust is located in North Conway, NH (MEGIS 2008).


Figure 4.5. Median income by census block and land trust office locations in Maine. Two statewide land trusts are located in Boston, MA and one local land trust is located in North Conway, NH (MEGIS 2008).

The location of privately conserved land, however, reveals a much different distribution.  Figure 4.6 indicates that the largest concentrations of privately conserved land occur in the north and west of Maine, predominantly in the jurisdiction of the Land Use Regulatory Commission (LURC).  An area of low population, the region under LURC jurisdiction includes many townships that remain unincorporated and lack a municipal government. 
Figure 4.6 Location of privately conserved fee owned land and conservation easements and all publicly conserved land (MEGIS 2008).

This discrepancy between the locations of land holdings and offices becomes even more pronounced when examining their distribution among Maine's 15 distinct biophysical regions (Figure 4.7).  While the northern regions of Aroostook Hills and the Boundary Plateau contain 63% of privately protected land, they contain no land trust main offices (Figure 4.8).  Conversely, the South Coastal, Mid-Coast and Central Interior regions contain only 0.62% of privately protected land, yet contains 63% of land trust offices (MEGIS 2008).

 
Figure 4.7 Biophysical regions and land trust office locations in Maine. Two statewide land trusts are located in Boston, MA and one local land trust is located in North Conway, NH. A biophysical region is characterized by a unique combination of physical geography, geology, climate, and vegetation (MEGIS 2008).


Figure 4.8 Percent of privately conserved land and percent of land trusts located in each of Maine's 15 distinct biophysical regions. A biophysical region is characterized by a unique combination of physical geography, geology, climate, and vegetation (MEGIS 2008).

Land for Maine's Future Funding

Established in 1987, LMF endeavors to preserve Maine's natural and cultural resources in order to maintain the state's long history of public access and traditional land uses.  Since its inception, four bonds totaling $117 dollars have been approved, although as of 2007 only $82 million has been spent (LMF 2008, MSPO 2008).  Of the $82 million, land trusts have received approximately 18%, or $14.7 million.  No land trusts received any funding before 2001, but since that time, land trusts have received upwards of 30% of LMF funding (LMF 2008).

Maine Compared to New England

As of 2005, Maine's privately conserved land comprised 58% of all privately conserved land in New England.  Further, privately conserved land in Maine grew faster than in any other New England state from 2000 to 2005, an increase of 1,156% (Aldrich and Wyerman 2006).  In 2000, privately conserved land in New England's largest state, Maine, only exceeded that of the smallest states, Connecticut and Rhode Island.  In 2005, however, Maine had the most privately conserved land in New England.  Even without the Pingree easement, which could be viewed as a one time, rare occurrence, Maine's privately conserved land increased 599%.  To put this into perspective, the next largest increase in New England was for Rhode Island at 47% (Aldrich and Wyerman 2006). 

Maine Compared to the US

Nationally, Maine leads in many indicators of private land conservation.  It ranks second in acres of privately conserved land after California, and it ranks sixth in number of land trusts, with California again the highest (Figure 4.9).  Maine's land trusts, however, have conserved a greater percentage of their state than have California's: 8.7% to 1.7%, respectively.  This greatly exceeds the national average of 1.38% and is only surpassed by Vermont's land trusts (Figure 4.10).  

 Figure 4.9 Percent of privately conserved land by state and percent of land trusts by state, for the ten states with the most land trusts (Aldrich and Wyerman 2006).

Figure 4.10 Percent of state land in private conservation, for the ten states with the most privately conserved land (Aldrich and Wyerman 2006).

Between 2000 and 2005, Maine's 1,156% increase in land protected by land trusts proved the second highest in the nation and well above the national 54% increase.  Also, while the acreage in conservation easements increased 148% nationally, it increased by 2,219% in Maine.  As a result, Maine has the second highest proportion of its privately conserved land in conservation easements (Figure 4.11).  During the same time period, however, the number of land trusts in Maine increased by only 12%, below the national increase of 32% (Aldrich and Wyerman 2006). 

Figure 4.11 Percent of conservation easements, fee owned land, and other privately conserved lands for the ten states with the most privately conserved land (Aldrich and Wyerman 2006).

Remaining Land for Conservation

Of Maine's 20.4 million acres, approximately 15.5 million acres, or 75.8% are still available for protection by land trusts (James W. Sewall Company 2006, MSPO 2008).  This includes farmland and all undeveloped land - even backyards or small urban plots - because all undeveloped land has the potential to be protected through conservation easements.  Therefore, the total amount of land available to land trusts is likely smaller because not all of this land will be protected. 

Land Trust Information Available Online

Transparency and Community Involvement

The following data resulted from our online analysis of website content.  Figure 4.12 displays four measures of land trust transparency and two measures of community involvement.  In terms of transparency we found that land trusts provided more general and less specific information.  For example, of the 85 land trusts with websites, 94.1% have a mission statement, 81.2% provide a list of board members, and only 8.2% and 4.7% provide a prioritization strategy or financial report, respectively.  The indicators for community involvement are mixed as well.  Over 75% of land trust websites advertise at least one educational or recreational event online, but just half offer online information to landowners on how to conserve their land through the land trust.

  
Figure 4.12 Percent of Maine's land trusts that provide public data on their organization's website.

Acquisition Preferences

Our study uses mission statements and prioritization strategies to gauge the types and characteristic of lands which land trusts preferred to acquire.  Both mission statement (Figure 4.13) and prioritization strategy data show that land trusts place importance on public access, biodiversity value and scenic beauty, while mission statement data alone showed historical or cultural and educational values as high priority.  Importantly, no key word appeared in more the half of the mission statements.  Since only seven land trusts have written prioritization strategies available online, we refrain from analyzing them in depth.

 
Figure 4.13 Percent of the 80 mission statements or equivalents available online which contain various key words describing land trusts' land acquisition priorities.

Land trusts also prioritize public access as shown by the lands they describe online.  Of the 631 parcel descriptions available online, over 75% are also publicly accessible.  These descriptions, however, only represent 27% of total parcels, indicating that there are a high percentage of parcels whose accessibility is either restricted or not discernible through web data (Table 4.3).

Table 4.3 Percent of conservation easements and fee owned lands in total parcels, online parcel descriptions and online publicly accessible parcels in Maine (MSPO 2008).

Statewide and Local Differences

Importantly, differences do emerge between statewide and local trusts regarding online transparency, community involvement and land prioritization.  As shown in Figure 4.14 a greater percentage of statewide land trusts provide the transparency and community involvement information for all indicators except educational or recreational events.  The difference is prominent, between 13% and 31%, in all but educational or recreational events and prioritization strategy, in which neither trust type outscores the other by more than 1%.  Interestingly though, the pattern remains that for both statewide and local land trusts, more general and less specific information is available.  

Figure 4.14 Percent of 13 statewide and 90 local land trusts that provide public data to on their organization's website.

Table 4.4 reveals that statewide and local trusts do not have entirely similar priorities for land acquisition.  Both educational and public access values are relatively important to both.  Statewide trusts, however, favor biodiversity, working forests, mountains and forests relatively more than local trusts, whereas local trusts favor historical and cultural values, natural resources, scenic views and farmland more.  Among their own mission statements, the top five values for statewide trusts are biodiversity, public access, education, forests and working forests.  For local trusts, the top five are public access, historical and cultural, scenic, education and biodiversity.

Table 4.4 Percent of online mission statements of the 13 statewide and 90 local land trusts which contain various key words describing their acquisition priorities. Also shows the difference between the percentages of statewide land trusts and local land trusts. 

Conservation Easements and Fee Owned Land

Another discrepancy exists between the availability of online information for conservation easements and fee-owned land.  As Figure 4.15 reveals, there are relatively more conservation easement parcels than fee-owned in Maine, yet online fee-owned descriptions and publicly accessible parcels outnumber those of easements by 63% and 217%, respectively.
Figure 4.15 Conservation easements and fee owned land as a percent of total parcels in Maine, total online parcel descriptions, and total online parcels listed as publicly accessible (MSPO 2008).

Implications

The state of Maine's private land conservation and specifically land trusts have important ramifications on Mainers and their environment, which are discussed in the following section. 

Land Trust Control of Land

Without a legal definition, the roles and responsibilities of land trusts are by no means clear.  For the same reason, land trusts are under no obligation to allow public access on either their fee owned lands or conservation easements (Merenlender et al. 2004).  Currently, Maine's land trusts lack a statewide coordination plan identifying common priorities and causes, and they lack a comprehensive database describing the characteristics of their lands and restrictions upon them.  As a result, what is conserved in Maine land trusts' millions of acres of conservation easements and fee-owned land cannot be objectively summarized, and groups that have access to them or benefit most from them cannot be identified (Merenlender et al. 2004).  Our research begins to summarize some of the publicly available data, but remains limited to online content.  Overall, this large data gap means that Maine may be relying on a conservation tool that it does not adequately understand.  Furthermore, land trusts and the role they play in Maine's conservation are clearly on the rise:  the growth of land trusts in the United States has been exponential between 1950 and 2005 (Acheson 2006), and in Maine, they have grown steadily from 1970 to 2005 (Figure 4.1).  As a result, there could be unintended consequences, both positive and negative, for conservation and Mainers' access to those lands, as explained below.

One Tool Meets Many Needs

Our data highlighting the differences between statewide and local land trusts suggests that land trusts in Maine address a wide range of needs.  We found that statewide land trusts focus relatively more on issues that require large amounts of land, such as biodiversity conservation and working forests (Figure 4.16).  Likewise, local land trusts are more likely to be associated with certain objectives such as historical and cultural values, scenic properties, and farmland.  As a result, it appears that statewide and local land trusts have effectively carved out differing niches to meet the varied conservation needs of Mainers.  The large budgets and statewide perspective of statewide trusts make them effective at pursuing issues that require large amounts of land and connectivity.  With the large majority of privately conserved land controlled by statewide land trusts, understanding their differing motivations is imperative because their agendas will shape the future of a large portion of Maine's open space. 

While the data show that local land trusts do not conserve nearly the same amount of land as statewide land trusts, the differences in their mission statements highlights their ability to meet the specific issues of local importance.  Specifically, these are typically agricultural, scenic, and cultural or historical properties.  Hence, Maine's conservation options are greatly enhanced by the ability of land trusts to serve their respective niches, employ a variety of conservation methods and meet differing needs for Mainers.



Figure 4.16 Ratio of the frequency that key words occured in the mission statements of statewide and local land trusts (statewide:local).

Public Access

Although they differ on some specific priorities, both statewide and local land trusts clearly prioritize public access.  Public access as the most commonly occurring term in land trust mission statements (Figure 4.13), both statewide and local land trusts prioritize public access highly and equally (Table 4.5).  Although land trusts only describe a small portion of their total holdings online, the vast majority, 75%, of online descriptions indicate public accessibility.  This affinity for public access may likely stem from Maine's long history of informal public access provided by timber companies.  Those companies established a status quo of open access to land, and it appears land trusts are reflecting Mainers' desires to maintain it. 

Clearly, the data indicate that land trusts currently provide a boon to public access in Maine.  This conclusion may only apply if the current growth rate for land trust holding remains static, because a trend based analysis indicates public access may not remain such a common occurrence.  As Figure 4.15 illustrates, while there are more easement than fee-owned parcels in Maine, online data provides 39% fewer descriptions and lists 68% fewer publicly accessible parcels for conservation easements than fee-owned land.  Also, parcels under conservation easements have increased faster than fee-owned parcels in the last several years (Figure 4.3).  If these two trends continue, Maine can likely expect more conservation, but with a lower percentage of it as publicly accessible.  This is because the increase in conservation will lead to more conservation easements and according to our website analysis this will provide a less than proportional increase in publicly accessible lands. 

As noted previously, what is being conserved in Maine and for whom remains unclear.  Land trusts provide a powerful tool that can protect large quantities of land, and while they prioritize public access, our data raises questions regarding their ability to provide public access to land in proportion to that priority. 

Transparency 

Finally, our data indicate that while land trusts engage the public, they do not empower the public with information and tools to do independent assessments.  As shown in Figure 4.13, land trusts provide a large amount of relatively broad information online, such as mission statements, but more informative documents such as financial reports or priority statements remain scarce at best.  These latter documents differ from mission statements in that they explain exactly how the land trust pursues those goals.  The absence of these documents limit the public ability to understand land trusts' operating procedures regarding which lands to conserve and the financial decisions made, regarding such land. 

In addition, the online data indicate that the lack of information about land trusts and their lands could hinder their own operations.  Land trusts depend on private citizens to donate or sell conservation easements or fee owned lands, and many also rely on community volunteers to help with maintenance and monitoring activities.  By putting forth more information about themselves and about how to donate land or conservation easements, land trusts can increase this public support.  Secondly, the lack of online information may also hinder inter-land trust collaboration.  Without this information, the land trusts may have trouble discovering and capitalizing upon shared priorities or mutually beneficial opportunities.  This is not to say that land trusts only communicate through online research; however, the web is a powerful tool that land trusts could utilize to more efficiently share information.

While local land trusts lag behind statewide land trusts in all transparency variables, online transparency may not be as important for them.  Statewide trusts control a much larger amount of land, instead of the generally smaller holdings of local trusts.  As a result, it is likely more valuable for statewide trusts to provide the highest quality data because they affect such a large portion of the state.  Further, statewide land trusts often own land or hold conservation easements in remote parts of the state, far away from their office; if they do not voluntarily provide this information online, it could be difficult for the public to discover or access it.  In contrast, the possibility exists that local trusts have less of a need to be transparent online because they operate on a small scale.  As a result, their land holdings and activities are likely more easily visible within the communities that they serve.  Finally, local land trusts may not have the financial or human resources available to prepare and present online information.

Maine's Quality of Place

Our data do not draw concrete conclusions on the future impact of land trusts on public access or the land trusts' transparency.  We can conclude, however, that land trusts clearly help to maintain Maine's quality of place, specifically by combating the suburban sprawl that threatens to degrade or destroy it (Brookings 2006).  The Brookings report concludes that Maine must take action to preserve its unique appealing characteristics, because they are vital to the state's future competitiveness.  As they increasingly protect more land, land trusts ensure that more of Maine's forests, landscapes and traditional towns remain intact.  Therefore, while much information about land trusts remains unknown, it appears that they certainly benefit Maine's quality of place. 

Scenarios

Since the data do not indicate definite trends for the future of private land conservation, we outline three possible scenarios that could greatly affect the state of private land conservation and land trust activity in the future.  The first two scenarios describe an increase and a decrease, respectively, in the scale of private land conservation in Maine. In the third scenario, we choose to isolate the effect of a single variable, government conservation, on the land trust community's structure, not the scale of operations.  

Seeing Green

This scenario examines the impacts of Maine fully implementing the recommendations of the Brookings report.  As a result, Maine would likely maintain its quality of place, strengthen its place based economy, in addition to fostering emerging innovation clusters; and make significant funding available to land trusts.  Consequently, land trusts would be able to pursue conservation on a greater level, due to increased funding and support. This would accelerate the rate of private land conservation, resulting in the control of a significant portion of Maine by a select group of land trusts with varying methods of land stewardship.   

The state's quality of place attracts many people to Maine as visitors and new residents (Brookings 2006).  Since land trusts play an important role in preserving this quality of place, this implies that the incoming population of Maine may increasingly support land trust operations.  Furthermore, of the 32,000 people who migrated to Maine between 1999 and 2004, 17,000 were from New Hampshire and Boston, a group that had significantly higher incomes than those of native Mainers.  This was evidenced by an increase in the median income in Maine from $46,500 to $48,000 (Brookings 2006).  With higher incomes in Maine, land trusts could potentially see greater financial support from these new migrants who share their appreciation for Maine's quality of place. 

Full implementation of the Brookings report recommendations would also lead to the establishment of the Maine's Quality of Place fund.  Through LMF, land trusts could apply for over half of this fund: $90 million guaranteed over 10 years.  This represents a significant increase over the $82 million the LMF has given sporadically over the previous 20 year period (Brookings 2006, MSPO 2008).  This large increase in funding would lead to three distinct outcomes for land trusts.

First, increased funding and more public support would potentially result in greater financial security for land trusts.  This could be especially important for local land trusts, which may have small budgets to begin with.  Increased security raises the probability that land trusts survive in the long term.  As a result, conservation easements and fee owned lands are likely to benefit from a greater guarantee of stewardship and protection. 

Second, with more funding, land trusts would be able to pursue higher cost projects, which are often larger in acreage.  While it may be unlikely to see another conservation donation comparable in size to the Pingree easement, our data suggests that a large amount of land in Maine remains a potential target for private land conservation.  Larger parcels would maintain more contiguous habitats, benefitting biodiversity. 

Lastly, with larger budgets land trusts could likely buy more land in fee.  This could potentially lead to relatively greater public access, because, as our data suggests, fee owned lands permit more access than conservation easements. 

On one level, land trusts control of land is not that different from that of timber companies; they are both private entities, which have control over land use on their properties. They differ, however, in that the public knows, to some degree, how timber companies will manage their lands: engaging in logging and allowing informal public access. This does not hold true though for land trusts, whose differing priorities result in great variation in management strategies and public accessbility between parcels. Whatever the land use, however, land trusts will ensure that the use persists longer than timber companies. Land trusts are dedicated to preserving open space, while timber companies may, and have, sold land to development interests when it is more profitable than timber harvesting.

In summary, fully implementing the suggestions made by the Brookings report would lead to greater funding for land trusts.  This in turn could create greater financial security, which would strengthen long term protection of easements and fee owned land.  This would also benefit biodiversity, as land trusts would conserve relatively larger parcels, providing more uninterrupted habitats.  Lastly, the number of fee owned lands would likely increase, which, as our data have shown, are more publicly accessible. 

A Lack of Trust

Land trusts rely heavily on public support, and this scenario examines the instance in which that support decreases, resulting in a negative atmosphere for private land conservation.  Public support could decrease due to two main factors: increasing conflict between the public and land trusts over public access and a poor economic climate.  These two factors could easily combine to create a situation in which the public views land trusts as insensitive to local needs, limiting the success of land trusts. This lack of success would be particularly evident among smaller land trusts, likely resulting in less protection of their main priorities: Maine's historical and cultural landmarks.

First, as suggested by our data, easements may continue to limit public access, and land trusts may continue to acquire them at an increasing rate.  Therefore, potential exists for greater conflict between land trusts and those who benefit from public access.  This is especially true for motorized recreation, which has grown in recent years and depends largely upon access to private land (Shwartz et al 2007). 

Second, land trusts could suffer due to a weak economy.  With an economic downturn, there will be less disposable income available for donation to private land conservation.  Furthermore, a poor economic climate could increase sensitivity to the economic impacts of private land conservation within communities.  Specifically, community members may view land trusts' conservation as limiting development and, therefore, new jobs.  Also, private land conservation cannot be considered a truly democratic process because land trusts' decisions do not include the entire community.  As a result, public support could decrease further if locals feel disenfranchised.  Compounding this issue, the community often pays for the conservation easements through either lower municipal tax revenues or potentially higher individual taxes for those properties whose value increase due to their proximity to conserved lands (Echeverria 2004). 

A lack of public support brought on by these factors could result in a significant reshaping of the face of private land conservation.  On a broad level, this scenario implies a lack of available funding for all land trusts, limiting the scale of private land conservation.  This decrease in available funding may also cause smaller land trusts, especially those with low budgets to dissolve.  Though their easements and fee owned lands would still legally be protected and transferred to another land trust, the receiving land trusts would likely not be in a financial position to effectively monitor and enforce all their newly acquired lands.  Therefore, formerly protected conservation easements could be threatened due to development interests, and potentially lost.  Additionally, fee owned lands would suffer due to the lack of funding for their stewardship.  With reduced funding, those trusts that continue to operate will only be able to conserve land at a decreased rate.  Even if land trusts do not suffer due to a lack of available funding, poor public sentiment towards trusts will likely result in fewer land donations.

Receiving fewer donations of land and funding, less of Maine's open spaces will receive permanent protection.  More land will likely remain in the hands of individuals, keeping a window of opportunity open for development interests, as it is not formally protected.  Furthermore, even if an individual land owner remains intent on protecting land from development, the future of the land is by no means certain.  For example, future land owners may not share the same conservation values, and measures such as individual deed restrictions have been proven to be easily overturned (Marchetti Ponte 2001). 

Specifically, with fewer funds for local land trusts, it is likely their ability to protect additional areas of local importance will decrease. This means that the former stewards of Maine's historical and cultural lands will be largely absent from land use decisions. Therefore, Maine communities risk losing many of their iconic, defining characteristics. In conclusion, a decrease in public support has potential to significantly decrease the scope of land trusts operations and, importantly, the success of private land conservation in Maine. 

The Government Gets Going

A relative lack of government conservation leadership helped land trusts gain a prominent role in the conservation movement, both nationally and in Maine (Brewer 2003).  This scenario examines the impact of a significant change in that status quo of conservation in the state: a large increase in public conservation land in Maine's North Woods, through the creation of a national park or the expansion of national forest lands and/or state parks.  We believe this would decrease the mandate for conservation of similar large, unbroken tracts of land.  This restructuring would result in statewide land trusts focusing more directly on combating development interests, which they could accomplish by protecting lands in towns facing sprawl and those bordering new public conservation land.

The change in conservation roles may likely result in a relatively higher level of support for local projects and acquisitions by land trusts compared to the present.  Since statewide land trusts have traditionally focused on larger, more remote parcels, they may have to restructure themselves to remain valuable.  This could result in heightened emphasis on areas of local importance, as well as possible partnerships between statewide and local land trusts.  The restructuring of statewide land trusts may improve Maine's ability to combat suburban sprawl.  Statewide trusts could improve the efficiency of local land trusts by providing them with their knowledge and resources.  Additionally, statewide trusts' regional perspective could enable them to assist local land trusts in increased collaboration. 

The need to protect land surrounding the new public conservation lands could also create an additional niche for statewide land trusts.  Specifically, if the publicly conserved land is in close proximity to shopping, restaurants, or other amenities attractive to development, land trusts may find themselves facing a new challenge: racing against real estate investment trusts that would seek to develop surrounding lands.  Evidence from western states reveals that property surrounding their abundant publicly protected lands is highly desirable for its scenic beauty, access to resources and privacy.  In Montana, for example, property values around these lands have increased from $500 to $29,000 per acre, a figure which has attracted real estate investment trusts in droves.  As a result, land trusts are racing to protect these lands before developer can buy them (Johnson 2007). 

While similar development around public lands has yet to occur in Maine, recent circumstances suggest the possibility of such development in the future.  Currently the North Woods, where any future large scale conservation would likely take place, lacks shopping, restaurants and other "attractive" amenities.  As a result, little development has occurred around large protected lands in the area, like Baxter State Park. The recently proposed resort community on Plum Creek's land surrounding Moosehead Lake, however, will likely attract commercial activity.  Therefore, if public conservation land increases in the Moosehead region in the future, the amenities may already be in place to foster similar development to that of Montana. 

Overall, a significant increase in publicly conserved land in Maine would decrease the necessity of land trusts' conservation of large, unbroken tracts of land.  This will not necessarily diminish the importance of land trusts in private land conservation, but rather initiate a restructuring of their role.  This new role could result in statewide land trusts focusing more locally or focusing specifically on lands bordering the new publicly conserved land.

Conclusion

In conclusion, our study makes four significant findings.  First, Maine's land trusts are an effective conservation tool.  Compared to the US and New England, Maine's land trusts have protected more land than most other states, and within Maine land trusts now account for over half of all protected land.  Furthermore, the State has recognized to some degree the significance of land trusts, as evidenced by the increased public funding allocated to land trusts through LMF since 2001.

Second, local and statewide land trusts share some core values but fill differing conservation needs.  As a result, the relatively small size of holdings of local land trusts do not represent a lack of efficacy but rather a different priority for conservation.  Local land trusts more heavily prioritize lands with cultural, historical and scenic characteristics which are specific to certain, typically small, parcels.  Alternatively, statewide land trusts place more emphasis on conserving land for economic or biological values which generally require large amounts of land. 

Third, although statewide and local land trusts have some differing priorities, they both stress some similar goals such as education and public access.  Public access is culturally important to Mainers, and land trusts clearly reflect this sentiment as shown through our analysis of mission statements, the few existing prioritization strategies, and online descriptions of publicly accessible land.  In terms of education, over 60% of both statewide and local land trusts offer activities to engage with the public through information or outdoor activity. 

Fourth, we found that land trusts provide less information as the information category becomes more specialized.  This became particularly evident in the large lack of financial reports, information for landowners on how to contribute to land trusts, and prioritization strategies.  We feel this is significant because it contributes to a lack of transparency, which limits public understanding of the operating methods of land trusts as well as hinders the possibility for inter land trust collaboration. 

Additionally, we identified three broad scenarios for the future of land trusts and private land conservation.  First, full implementation of the recommendations of the Brookings report would maintain high a quality of place and increase funding for land trust in Maine.  Under this scenario, land trusts could expand operations and undertake larger projects, solidifying their role as vital actors in the state's conservation movement. Second, a poor economic climate coupled with a negative perception of land trusts may potentially reduce their levels of support and funding and, by extension, decrease the scale and effectiveness of private land conservation.  Lastly, an increase in federal or state owned lands could lead to a significant restructuring of the role of private land conservation in Maine. 

Recommendations

Based on our data and the scenarios we outlined, we have four recommendations to improve the efficiency and public support of private land conservation.  These improvements would result from better planning and collaboration, greater levels of information availability, and increased public access.

Private land conservation in Maine would benefit greatly from improved planning and collaboration.  Specifically, land trusts and municipalities should develop written plans for collaborating to manage land use and development growth.  In general, Maine has had a poorly defined plan for managing its growth, and as a result, suburban sprawl has consumed large amounts of open space (Brookings 2006).  Additionally, there can be conflicting land use opinions between land trusts, intent on conservation, and municipalities, which may see development as a means of economic growth.  Therefore, land trusts should be actively involved in developing written plans, to both avoid tensions with local towns and to find ways to combine municipal and land trust resources.  On a statewide level, any attempt to create and implement an improved plan for smart development in Maine should include the land trust community, due to the large role this community now plays in Maine.  The recent agreement between Plum Creek and the Nature Conservancy to conserve over 400,000 acres as part of a proposed plan for development provides prime evidence that land trusts play a large role in the future of Maine's open space. 

Also, land trusts should increase their amount of publicly accessible information online.  The most pressing information needs are prioritization strategies, financial reports, information for landowners on donation methods, and event information.  Providing this type of information can lead to a greater public understanding of land trust activity, therefore increasing community awareness and involvement.  Furthermore, greater information sharing may strengthen land trusts' image as protectors of open space, increasing public support.

Additionally, land trusts should seek to allow public access to their lands, where applicable. The longstanding tradition of public access to private land in Maine has created an expectation that this tradition will, or should, continue. With the steady decline in timber industry land ownership, however, public access is clearly diminishing. Therefore, public support for land trusts can increase greatly if the trusts become leaders in the stewardship of public access.

Lastly, we recommend that land trusts develop a reliable and publicly accessible database of all their protected land. Because they control 55% of all conservation land in the state, land trusts have a large impact on the future of Maine's open space. Currently, however, very little is known about the characteristics of these lands or the types of restrictions placed on land from conserevation easements. For instance, such information would be especially useful to conservation biologists who are concerned with the quality and location of specific habitats and natural resources. Overall, the public, land trusts, and policy makers need to know what is being conserved, by what means, and for what purposes.

Appendix A: Survey Used to Assess Land Trust Websites

The variable abbreviation is written in italics, with its name spelled out in full after the colon.
1.      Web: Website - (1) if website exists. (0) if it does not.
2.      MS: Mission Statement - Mission statement = at least one sentence preceded by either the word "goals" or "mission." If it exists then 1, if it does not then 0, if a statement outlining land trust focus exists but is not preceded by "goals" or "mission" then 2.
3.      _M_Words:_ Mission Words - If both "goals" and "mission" exist, choose the information following "mission." Each one of the following words must be explicitly used in the mission statement.  If it exists then 1, if it does not, then 0.
-         Land: Land
-         Water: Water
-         Wetlands: Wetlands
-         Forests: Forests or Wooded Areas
-         Working Forests: Working Forests or Productive Forest/Forestland
-         Farmland: Farmland or Agriculture
-         Fresh Water: Fresh Water,  Lakes, Ponds, Streams, Rivers and Riverbanks, or specific name of body of fresh water
-         Shorelands: Shorelands, Shoreline, Shorefront, Beach or Islands
-         Mountains: Mountain or specific peak or mountain name
-         Biodiversity: Biodiversity, Wildlife, Habitat, or individual species name
-         Historical: Historical, Cultural, or Traditional resources
-         Natural Resource: Natural Resource
-         Scenic: Scenic, Beauty, View
-         Watershed: Watershed or name of a watershed in the Land Trust title
-         Education: Education, General Understanding, or Knowledge
-         Scientific: Scientific Use/Study
-         Public Access: Public Access, Public Use, Recreational Resources, Trails or encouragement of specific recreation activity
4.      Fin_Report: Financial Report - A separate document outlining the financial status of the land trust, by providing acquisition or operation costs or tax payment information.  The document must be specific to the most recent fiscal year (2007) and accessible through the website.  1 if it exists, 0 if it does not
5.      _B_Memebers:_ Board Members - An explicit list of the names of the board members.  1 if it exists, 0 if it does not
6.      Events_EdRec: Educational or Recreation Events - a list, calendar or announcement of events hosted or sponsored by the land trust that are open to the public.  1 if it they offer at least 1, 0 if they do not
7.      Info_LOwners: Information for Landowners - Instructions on how to contribute to the land trust in at least one of the following ways: donation, bargain sale, full sale or will of a conservation easement or property deed.  1 if it exists, 0 if it does not
8.      Info_Off: Off-Site Links - Links to other websites or documents produced by other organizations, accompanied by language that specifically states that information for landowners is available at the other site.  (Lone links to other sites do not count).  1 if it exists, 0 if it does not
9.      Info_On: On-Site Information - A description on the organization's website of any of the characteristics enumerated in "Information for Landowners." 1 if it exists, 0 if it does not
10.  _D_Nbr:_ Number of descriptions of individual parcels.  - Number of parcels with a description.  A description = name of individual parcel followed by a unique depiction of it.  No length criterion.  Enter number of parcels that meet definition.
11.  _D_Nbr_Fee_: Number of descriptions of fee owned land/preserve - a description = name of individual, explicitly fee owned parcel followed by a unique depiction of it.  No length criterion. Enter number of parcels that meet definition.
12.  _D_Nbr_Ease:_ Number of descriptions of a conservation easement parcel - a description = name of individual, explicitly under easement parcel, followed by a unique depiction of it.  No length criterion. Enter number of parcels that meet definition.
13.  PA_Nbr: Number of parcels accessible? Number of accessible.  The website must have either a trail map or an access description for each individual fee owned parcel that is counted.
-         Trail map = a map that has clearly marked trails.
-         Access description = Town name, parcel name and an indication that the public may enter the property
-         Enter number of parcels that meet definition.
14.  PA_Nber_Fee: Number of Fee owned publicly accessible parcels listed on the website - website must have either a trail map or an access description for each individual fee owned parcel that is counted.
-         Trail map = a map that has clearly marked trails.
-         Access description = Town name, parcel name and an indication that the public may enter the property
-         Enter number of parcels that meet definition.
15.  PA_Nbr_Ease: Number of conservation easement publicly accessible parcels listed on the website - website must have either a trail map or an access description for each individual conservation easement parcel that is counted.
-         Trail map = a map that has clearly marked trails with a trailhead
-         Access description = Town name, parcel name and an indication that the public may enter the property.
-         Enter number of parcels that meet definition.
16.  PS: Prioritization Strategy - A statement describing the criteria that the organization uses decides to acquire a parcel in easement or fee purchase.  If it exists then 1, if it does not, then 0.
17.  PS_Words: Prioritization Words - The following words must be explicitly used in the prioritization strategy to be counted.  If it is used then 1, if it is not, then 0.
-         Acquisitions - do they prefer certain types of acquisition over others?
-         Land: Land
-         Water: Water
-         Wetlands: Wetlands
-         Forests: Forests or Wooded Areas
-         Working Forests: Working Forests or Productive Forest/Forestland
-         Farmland: Farmland or Agriculture
-         Fresh Water: Fresh Water,  Lakes, Ponds, Streams, Rivers and Riverbanks, or specific name of body of fresh water
-         Shorelands: Shorelands, Shoreline, Shorefront, Beach or Islands
-         Mountains: Mountain or specific peak or mountain name
-         Biodiversity: Biodiversity, Wildlife, Habitat, or individual species name
-         Historical: Historical, Cultural, or Traditional resources
-         Natural Resource: Natural Resource
-         Scenic: Scenic, Beauty, View
-         Watershed: Watershed or name of a watershed in the Land Trust title
-         Education: Education, General Understanding, or Knowledge
-         Scientific: Scientific Use/Study
-         Public Access: Public Access, Public Use, Recreational Resources, Trails or encouragement of specific recreation activity
-         Contiguous: Contiguous or mention of importance of adjacent conserved lands

Works Cited

Acheson, J. M. 2006. Public Access to Privately Owned Land in Maine. Maine Policy Review Fall 2006:12. 

Aldrich, R., James Wyerman. 2006. Land Trust Alliance 2005 Census. Land Trust Alliance. Available from http://www.landtrustalliance.org/about-us/land-trust-census (Accessed November 6, 2008).

Brewer, R. 2003. Conservancy: The Land Trust Movement in America. UPNE.

Brookings. 2006. Charting Maine's Future: An Action Plan for Promoting Sustainable Prosperity and Quality of Place. Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program.

Byers, E., Karin Marchetti Ponte 2005. The Conservation Easement Handbook Land Trust Alliance and the Trust for Public Land.

Cadot, A. A. 2006. Tax Tools in Maine: Tools for Reducing High Property Taxes in Maine. Available from http://www.privatelandownernetwork.org/plnlo/taxtoolsinmaine.asp (Accessed November, 2008).

Clark, S. A., Peter Howell. 2007. From Diamond International to Plum Creek: The Era of Large Landscape Conservation in the Northern Forest. Maine Policy Review 16:56-65.

Conservation Law Foundation v. Town of Lincolnville. 2001. Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

Echeverria, J. D. 2004. Top Ten Reasons to Be Skeptical About Voluntary Conservation Easements. Land Trust Alliance Rally.

Gustanski, J. A., Roderick H. Squires 2000. Protecting the Land: Conservation Easements Past, Present, and Future. Island Press.

James W. Sewall Company. 2006. 136 Center St, Old Town, Maine, 04468.

Johnson, K. 2007. As Logging Fades, Rich Carve up Open Land in West. New York Times.

Marchetti Ponte, K. F. 2001. Fact Sheet: Conservation Easments V. Deed Restriction. Land Trust Alliance. Available from http://www.landtrustalliance.org/conserve/documents/CE-deed-restriction.pdf (Accessed November 21, 2008).

MDIFW. 2004. Hunting and Trapping in Maine. Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. Available from http://www.maine.gov/ifw/hunting_trapping/index.htm (Accessed November, 2008).

MDIFW. 2007. Landowner Relations Program. Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. Available from http://www.maine.gov/ifw/aboutifw/wardenservice/special_services_teams/landowner_relations/liability_explained.htm (Accessed November, 2008).

MEGIS. 2008. GIS Data Catalog. Maine Office of GIS. Available from http://megis.maine.gov/catalog/ (Accessed November, 2008).

Merenlender, A. M., L.  Huntsinger, G. Guthey, S.K. Fairfax. 2004. Land Trusts and Conservation Easements: Who Is Conserving What for Whom? Conservation Biology 18:65 - 76.

Mills, A. 2004. Legal Overview of Maine's Great Ponds and Landowner Liability Laws. Governor John Baldacci's Task Force on Traditional Uses and Public Access to Land.

MRS Title 7 Chapter 2-C § 60-60-A. 2007.

MRS Title 14 Chapter 7 § 159-A. 1979-2007.

MRS Title 17 Chapter 127 § 3860. 1820, 1973.

MRS Title 36 Chapter 105 § 701-A. 1969-2007.

MRS Title 36 Chapter 105 § 1106-A. 1993, 2003.

MRS Title 333 Chapter 7 § 476-479-C. 2007.

MSPO. 2006. Land for Maine's Future. Maine State Planning Office. Available from http://maine.gov/spo/lmf/ (Accessed November, 2008).

MSPO. 2008. Maine land trust data from Land for Maine's Future program Director Tim Glidden. Maine State Planning Office.

NEFF. 2008. Pingree Forest Partnership. New England Forestry Foundation. Available from http://www.newenglandforestry.org/projects/pingree.asp (Accessed.

Pidot, J. 2005. Reinventing Conservation Easements: A Critical Examination and Ideas for Reform Policy Focus Report. Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.

Pidot, J. 2008. The Role of Government. Protecting Livelihoods and Landscapes in Northern Maine, Colby College.

Schwartz, A., Emmie Theberge, and Emily Sinnott. 2007. The State of Land and Resource Use in the Unorganized Territory in Maine. Available from http://www.colby.edu/environ/courses/ES493/stateofmaine2007/papers/SOME07_ResourceAccess.html (Accessed
November, 2008)

Sidney St. F. Thaxter and Mary E. McCann Thaxter v. Zoning Board of Appleas City of Portland and Joshua C. Empson. 2008. Superior Court of Maine, Cumberland County.

Stockford, D. C. 1990. Property Tax Assesment of Conservation Easements. Boston College Environmental Affairs Law Review 17:823-832.

TNC. 2008. How We Work: Conservation Methods. The Nature Conservancy. Available from http://www.nature.org/aboutus/howwework/conservationmethods/privatelands/conservationeasements/ (Accessed November 2008).

Windham Land Trust v. Russell I. Jeffords et al. 2008.

World Wide Legal Information Association. 2007. Legal Information for the World. World Wide Legal Information Association. Available from http://www.wwlia.org/LegalDictionary.asps (Accessed November, 2008).

Wright, J. B. 1993. Conservation Easements: An Analysis of Donated Development Rights. Journal of the American Planning Association 59.


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