Traditionally land trusts have operated on an opportunistic rather than strategic basis often acquiring conservation easements on parcels after being approached by the owners of such parcels. The Land Trust Alliance’s 2010 National Land Census found that land trusts who had adopted a strategic conservation plan preserved twice as much acreage as those that did not.
Critics of the land trust movement have pointed out that the acquisition of conservation easements depends in large part on tax incentives – a form of public expenditure. Yet, land trusts do not answer to the public at large or to elected officials and have no obligation to coordinate with public agencies tasked with planning for environmental and open space preservation. So in the absence of a strategic plan, there is a legitimate concern that land trust efforts will not amount to more than the sum of their parts.
An example of a successful strategic approach and one that was spearheaded by the Central Indiana Land Trust but also involved a myriad of other stakeholders is Greening the Crossroads. The plan aims to identify and preserve what it defines as a green infrastructure: “a strategically planned and managed network of natural lands and working landscapes that protects ecosystem functions and conservation values while providing associated benefits to human populations.”
By working with public planning agencies and a wide cross section of interested and affected parties, the land trust increases the likelihood that its efforts will not only preserve individual parcels but will serve to accomplish larger, overriding public policy objectives.