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Land Trust or Preserve Managers

History

Efforts to conserve land and water go back more than 125 years in the United States and have been driven by two key forces: the government and private citizens' or community groups. Alarm about diminishing wilderness areas in the West led to the establishment of the first national parks and preserves by our government in the late 19th century. Around that time, the government also set aside four Civil War battlefields as national battlefield parks, the first historic sites so acquired by the U.S. government.

The single most influential figure in early conservation efforts was Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th president of the United States. Roosevelt fell in love with the West as a young man, when ill health led him there to seek better air. He owned a ranch in the Dakota Territory and wrote many books about his experiences in the West.

When he became president in 1901, Roosevelt used the position to help preserve his beloved West. He and his administrators pushed conservation as part of an overall strategy for the responsible use of natural resources, including forests, pastures, fish, game, soil, and minerals. This both increased public awareness of and support for conservation and led to important early conservation legislation. Roosevelt's administration especially emphasized the preservation of forests, wildlife, parklands, wilderness areas, and watershed areas and carried out such work as the first inventory of natural resources in this country.

Roosevelt was very proud of the monumental accomplishments of his administration in conserving the natural resources of the nation. He wrote, "During the seven and one-half years closing on March 4, 1909 (the years of his administration), more was accomplished for the protection of wildlife in the United States than during all the previous years, excepting only the creation of Yellowstone National Park."

But government action is only part of this story. Individual citizens forming private nonprofit land trusts, plus national nonprofit land trust organizations, have saved countless acres of land and water as well.

Back in 1891, the city of Boston was bursting at the seams. A thriving shipbuilding industry plus other commercial and industrial pursuits had helped that city boom in the 19th century. Boston also had seen an explosion in immigrant population, particularly Irish immigrants. The captains of the industry and their families poured money into the arts, helping Boston gain a reputation as the "Athens of America."

Some Bostonians, however, were troubled by the rapid development that swallowed up areas at the edges of the city. They were concerned that remaining wild areas were going to disappear and that many people living in the city were never going to have access to open lands and wild areas.

One group of citizens took action. They formed a group called the Trustees of Reservations, bought up some of the undeveloped land themselves, and opened the areas to the public for recreational use. This was the first official land trust in the country, and it paved the way for a whole movement of private land trusts.

Individuals as well as large groups have started land trusts; they have worked to protect just a few acres of land up to hundreds of acres, depending on the part of the country and the trust's resources. Sometimes trusts just acquire the land or easements on it; but sometimes, and increasingly in recent years, they also take steps to environmentally manage it.

Land trusts saw very strong growth in the mid- to late-1980s. Following a slight dip in the early 1990s, they are going strong today. As of December 31, 2010, there were 1,723 private nonprofit land trusts.

Sometimes land trusts work in cooperation with U.S. federal agencies for managing lands. This is true of The Nature Conservancy (TNC), for example, a very large national land trust organization specializing in rare wildlife and habitats. The organization assists agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Department of Interior, the National Park Service, and the Department of Defense with the management of land and biodiversity conservation. The conservancy also works with state and local governments, nonprofit organizations, corporations, and private individuals.

Consulting firms specializing in land trust or preserve management also exist and may be called in to help with special areas like ecosystem restoration or forestry management. Finally, some private corporations, such as utility companies or timber companies, own and manage large parcels of land; their land management may include conservation and preservation of areas such as forest wetlands.

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