What is a Land Trust?

Photo: Loon Echo Land Trust

Maine boasts more than 80 land trusts, community-supported, non-profits that have permanently conserved more than 2.5 million acres–12% of the state.

This network of privately-owned properties offers many of the benefits people have come to enjoy on Maine’s public lands, including access to the outdoors for traditional activities such as hunting, fishing, hiking, snowmobiling and wildlife observation, but that’s just the beginning.

Land trusts also maintain more than a thousand miles of recreational trails; provide land for sustainably managed working forests, farms, and waterfronts; protect valuable wildlife habitats; and present community programming that enhances the lives of families throughout Maine.

Maine Has Very Little Public Land

One reason Maine has such an active land trust community is because Maine has the lowest percentage of public lands among all states in our region. At 6.5%, it is also one of the lowest percentages in the country, lower than 36 other states.

Most states rely heavily on government, at all levels, to acquire and manage public lands to meet the needs and desires of their citizens to secure public access to the outdoors, support natural resource-based industries, protect wildlife habitat and safeguard public drinking water supplies. In Maine, where government land ownership is low, land trusts have stepped up to meet these public goals by acquiring many conservation lands without government support and by partnering with government to purchase and manage new and existing protected properties.

Maine land trusts are also national leaders in the use of conservation easements. When public conservation benefits are secured with easements, protected properties remain privately-owned and on the tax rolls.  Easements are the tool used to protect more than 75% of the land conserved by Maine land trusts.

In many parts of the country, the burden of public access to the outdoors is mostly the responsibility of government and taxpayers. In Maine, our more modest network of public lands are complimented by a privately-funded land trust system that provides many additional places where we can hunt, hike, fish, snowmobile, ATV, picnic, birdwatch, walk our dogs, and enjoy nature–usually for free.