the trustees of reservations
On The Land
The Trustees of Reservations

Friday, April 27, 2012

Cooperative Conservation Assist Projects are the fastest-growing Method of Conservation nationwide!

The Trustees of Reservations, America's oldest statewide land trust, is best known for our 106 Reservations on 26,000 acres across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, "for public use and enjoyment" as our mission statement has always said.  You might already know, though, that this blog focuses on our lesser known side: land conservation through Conservation Restrictions (CRs) - an area in which we recently celebrated our 20,000th acre protected.  While these typically privately-protected properties are not often open "for public use and enjoyment," the purpose of CRs revolve around public benefit, through protection of water supply, wildlife habitat, land for agriculture, and scenic views, among other conservation values. 

I had thought that CRs are still the fastest-growing land protection method by land trusts in the nation.  However, upon checking the 2010 National Land Trust Census results, I found that I was in fact wrong, and this is actually NOT the case by percentage increase in acres protected between the 2005 and 2010 Censuses!  Indeed, land protected by CRs (Conservation Easements everywhere else in the U.S.) did show the biggest numerical increase in acres conserved - 2.8 million new acres nationwide, from 6 million in 2005 to 8.8 million total nationwide acres in 2010, an impressive increase of 47%.  Land owned outright by land trusts increased by 40%, from 1.5 million to 2.1 million total acres.  What then was the fastest-growing category by percentage change, keeping pace with CEs and then some?

The category in question grew by a whopping 51%, from about 3.4 million to 5.1 million total acres, and the name of the Land Trust Census category for it is a mouthful: "Acres acquired and reconveyed and acres conserved by other means by state and local land trusts."  In plain English, one might boil this down to "Land Conservation partnerships," or "assists," where land is protected as a result of the actions of a land trust, but the land trust doesn't necessarily end up owning the land, or even holding a resultant conservation easement.  This is a testament to partnerships - land trusts working together with other land trusts or partnering with cities, towns, or the state, where a land protection organization cooperating on a project does not necessarily end up with the resulting interest in the subject land.  

The Trustees of Reservations recently calculated our last ten years of conservation acreage by type of transaction.  And the results pretty much match the national trends - in fact we found that cooperative assist projects in which TTOR participated accounted for a very large portion of the total land which we have conserved or helped to put in to conservation! 

Happy Cattle at Oscar Palmer Farm!
Where have we helped to accomplish this work in the last decade?  In a wide variety of projects in over 30 cities and towns statewide!  How about a short sampler of notables?  Westport comes to mind, where we partnered with the town, the community, and the Westport Land Conservation Trust from 2008 to 2011 to protect the historic Oscar Palmer Farm - 29 acres threatened by development - and sell to a conservation buyer.  Just one of the numerous successful Westport projects (totalling 2,000+ acres!) in which we have played a part!

In the bustling Pioneer Valley hub of Northampton, a partnership in 2005-2006 with the city and Mass Audubon resulted in protection of 120 acres on Turkey Hill Road, near the western boundary of the town, abutting Westhampton, and later added to the Mineral Hills Conservation Area.  The land was under imminent threat of development by a private owner.  The Trustees and Mass Audubon offered temporary loan and ownership assistance to the city, while they applied for a state grant, with which proceeds the property was eventually protected! 

Crucial Wetlands in the Fitchburg Water Supply lands, now under conservation.
In the re-emerging North Central MA city of Fitchburg, a partnership between the city,  North County Land Trust, The Trustees, the Nashua River Watershed Association, the MA Department of Fish and Game, and DEP, resulted in a whopping 1,900 acres of city land under CR with the Department of Fish and Game, protecting a large portion of the city's drinking water supply lands, and it is open for public recreation too!  Also in Fitchburg, we partnered with the city, North County Land Trust, and many other organizations to acquire the land and bring the state's first Gateway Park to fruition!  It opened in September 2011, owned by the city, with a CR held by TTOR and North County Land Trust.  Assist projects don't always imply that we are hands-off in future property stewardship, and The Trustees are partnering with community organizations and residents to run the community garden at the Fitchburg Gateway Park next year!

Copicut Woods Reservation is the portion of the SE BioReserve directly owned by The Trustees.
A final example comes in Fall River, where we are a partner in the Southeastern Massachusetts Bioreserve, in which we own the 516-acre Copicut Woods Reservation and hold a 50-acre deed restriction on a crucial border parcel, and have worked actively with the city and state for well over a decade to assist in the further protection and management of these 13,600 pristine and ecologically amazing acres which span multiple towns.  Creation of the Bioreserve even included a 300-acre land grant from the state on which the city is building the Fall River Executive Park, to spur economic development expected to bring thousands of jobs to Southeastern MA!! 

Land conservation in these ever-challenging times works extremely well with innovative private-public partnerships.  In a diverse array of cities and towns across Massachusetts, as big as Boston and Fall River, as small as Hadley and New Braintree, and in suburbs like Holliston and Seekonk, we have successfully partnered with towns, other land trusts, and state agencies to leverage an exciting portfolio of conservation projects!  This is thanks to our partners and to our dedicated land protection staff!  A local conservation project may not always have The Trustees' logo on it, nor should it always, but we may well have worked behind the scenes on a successful project near you!

 Posted by Andrew Bentley - CR Stewardship Assistant.

Friday, April 20, 2012

2012 Massachusetts Conservation Tax Credit announced and accepting applications!

Tax season is now behind us (phew!), but is it ever too early to start thinking about next year?  If you or someone you know is weighing the possibility of land conservation - outright donation, Conservation Restriction donation, or bargain sale of land or CRs - we want to inform you about an exciting state tax credit of up to $50,000.  In late March, the State Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) announced that it is now accepting applications for the 2012 Conservation Land Tax Credit Program (CLTC)!  Last year was the credit's inaugural year, and it was administered through a lottery, but this year's credit will be awarded on a first-come, first-served basis.  The credit is capped at $2 million in credits distributed each year, which means at least forty full $50,000 credits, or a substantially higher number of lesser credits are available!  As implied, lesser credits are available for smaller-value donations that would receive, say, a $20,000 credit rather than a $50,000 credit.  

Rich wildlife habitats may qualify for a tax credit!
The CLTC marks the first time that Massachusetts has offered a tax incentive for land conservation donations.  This tax credit is in addition to federal income tax deductions available for land gifts.   
Land characteristics are more important than the type of transaction - generally, land is eligible, via state EEA determination, if it contains public conservation values significant to protect drinking water supplies, rare species and other wildlife habitats, agricultural or forestry lands, recreational opportunities and scenic or cultural values of state or regional importance.  Land must be put into perpetual conservation in order to qualify. 

As a first step, the landowner must apply to the program before the gift or bargain sale is completed.     

Land with rich agricultural and scenic value may be eligible for the new tax credit!

Once the property has been pre-approved by the Commonwealth, the landowner is required to obtain an appraisal of the property to determine the land’s market value.  The appraisal establishes the amount of the tax credit and the credit is applied to the amount of income tax that you owe. The State will apply the credit to your tax liability in the year of the gift.  If the credit exceeds your tax liability, the state will issue a check for the remainder of the credit.  That means that not only would your State income tax be wiped out for that year, but the State will issue you a check for the difference between that year’s tax and $50,000 or 50 percent of the appraised value, whichever is less.  For example, if you donated a conservation restriction appraised at $120,000, your tax credit would be the maximum $50,000.  If your Mass. income tax is $10,000, you would pay no state tax and get a check for the $40,000 difference.  You do not need to reside in Massachusetts or even pay taxes here; so long as you own the land, and the land qualifies, you qualify. 

Guidelines on how the credit works, and how to apply, are available at the EEA's webpage for the credit - Click here to access it.

Remember, since there is the $2 million budget limit on the credit, and it must be for a project completed in 2012 (recorded at the Registry of Deeds), the sooner you initiate a project and apply for the credit, the better your chances for receiving it. 

Find a potential land trust partner for your land conservation project, here at The Trustees of Reservations, or at the Massachusetts Land Trust Coalition!  We are thrilled that Massachusetts has joined the dozen forward-thinking states that supply state tax credits for land conservation! 

Post by Andrew Bentley - special thanks to TTOR Westport Community Conservation Specialist, Chris Detwiller, for adapted content!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Alprilla Farm in Essex, MA. CSAs on CR farms!

Alprilla Farm - Essex, MA - 70 acres protected by a 1984 CR to The Trustees of Reservations

Alprilla Farm - "Essex Grown" Photo Credit: Alprilla Farm

The rise of CSAs is one of the most exciting phenomena for New England farmers in recent decades.  Equally exciting and absolutely integral to the future of farming in our region is the revived enthusiasm of young people for agricultural careers - where the mid fifties is the average age of farmers statewide and nationwide.  Alprilla farmer Noah Kellerman is a great example of one such young person turning that tide!  Noah grew up on the farm, which his grandfather managed for cattle, and his parents for hay and horse boarding.  After a childhood spent gardening with his family, and a successful summer 2009 market garden, he began to think seriously about starting a CSA.  He successfully launched the CSA just after graduating from Hampshire College in 2011.  He brings his studies and hands-on experience in sustainable, organic agriculture, to provide CSA shares to the North Shore.  His friend Tucker Smith, a Gloucester native and grad of UMass Amherst's Stockbridge School of Agriculture, runs the farm with him. 

Farmers Noah Kellerman (R) and Tucker Smith (L).  Pretty sure Noah is wearing a Trustees of Reservations staff shirt! Photo credit: Alprilla Farm
Noah's connections to The Trustees go deeper than growing up on a farm privately protected by our organization - and he cites his apprenticeship at our nearby Appleton Farms CSA for several summers as one of his main motivations to take up farming!  If you are local, you may just be stuck on the Appleton CSA waiting list.  Just to say - Alprilla Farm is a short 4 miles away on Route 133, and they still have some shares available!  Interested in what they grow?  Click the link to check out just some of some of their crop list.  All produce is grown using organic methods by two very experienced young farmers. 

Act fast to sign up for Alprilla's 2012 CSA - the sixty shares are sure to go fast there as well!  We are excited for this venture, and anticipate Alprilla Farm growing into a great resource in the Essex community!  Keep tabs on their Facebook page to see what they are up to as the 2012 CSA season takes shape.  Congratulations from The Trustees to Noah as he builds his own farm and CSA program!  We are thrilled to help motivate and train future farmers, and protect land for them to build their businesses!     

Alprilla Farm sits directly across the street from the Trustees' Stavros Reservation, with its magnificent views of the Essex River estuary, featuring the dramatic salt marsh and drumlin landscape of the Crane Wildlife Refuge flanking Crane Beach.  The farm is part of the Stavros family legacy of conservation, who donated the CR on the farm in 1984, the bulk of the Stavros Reservation land, and the family's Cape Ann Golf Course, also under Trustees' CR.  Noah Kellerman's family continues this exciting legacy, farming Massachusetts land that has been in agriculture since the 17th century.

Posted by Andrew Bentley - CR Stewardship Assistant