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Land Acquisition Professionals

History

Land acquisitions has evolved as a specialty within nonprofit land trusts, which in turn are a special part of land and water conservation efforts in this country.

Land and water conservation efforts in the United States go back more than 100 years, when the federal government first started setting aside wilderness areas and other open land and water. Since then, hundreds of millions of acres have been preserved in federally owned and managed national parks, wildlife refuges, wild and scenic rivers, and other areas as well as state or locally managed protected lands. Today, acquisition by the federal government is largely complete. But acquisitions by private land trusts continue. The Land Trust Alliance reports that state, local, and national land trusts had conserved 47 million acres of open space as of December 31, 2010—an increase of 23 million acres since 2000.

Broadly, land trusts are private nonprofit groups formed to acquire and manage open lands for the public's benefit. The first official one in this country was The Trustees of Reservations, formed in Boston in 1891. Concerned that open lands around the city were being rapidly swallowed up by development, this group of private citizens took action: They bought up some land themselves and made it available to the public for recreation.

Interest in the United States really took off in the 1960s and 1970s, along with increased public interest in the environment. As of December 31, 2010, there were 1,723 private nonprofit land trusts, ranging from small, one- or two-person trusts to large statewide groups with paid staffs of 30 or more people.

There also are several large national land trust organizations that do land trust work themselves or provide support services to other land trusts. One is The Nature Conservancy (TNC), based in Arlington, Virginia, with state chapters nationwide. Established in 1951, today it employs about 3,200 people (including contract and seasonal workers) and emphasizes conservation of "rare or relatively rare" species and natural communities.

Another key group is the Trust for Public Land (TPL) in San Francisco, established in 1972. An early TPL success was buying up miles of San Francisco coastline, therefore rescuing it from developers' hands. (The National Park Service now manages these areas.) Today, TPL also provides a wide range of services to other land trusts, from an informational newsletter to help with handling land transactions.

The Land Trust Alliance was set up in 1982 by trusts nationwide that wanted a central organization in Washington, D.C. In addition to providing information services, publications, documents, case studies, and other support to land trusts, it has a lobbyist to give land trusts a presence on Capitol Hill.

The Trustees of Reservations—that first U.S. land trust—still exists today, and is still acquiring land statewide. In fact, Massachusetts has the second-largest number of land trusts of all the states. But land trusts also exist in every other state, too, doing their part to help keep forests, prairies, coastlines, and other areas intact.

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