the trustees of reservations
On The Land
The Trustees of Reservations

Monday, July 6, 2015

An Introduction to Conservation Restriction stewardship at The Trustees

The Trustees of Reservations boasts a long and storied history, anchored in Charles Eliot's vision of inviting public use and enjoyment of natural and historic places in Massachusetts.  Our 113 properties now include landmarks from the shores of Crane BeachLong Point, and Wasque, to shady forest hikes and views at places like Peaked and Monument Mountain, to historic houses and cultural history at Naumkeag and the Old Manse. We are a leader in the land conservation movement, actively protecting threatened landscapes over the decades, to preserve forests, farmland, and historic and natural resources without which much of a community's character may be lost. Our status as the largest private organization holder of Conservation Restrictions (CRs)  by acreage in Massachusetts is a testament to this leadership. 

The distribution of statewide CR properties protected by The Trustees!

In 1972, The Trustees accepted its very first perpetual conservation restriction (CR), which is most often a legal agreement between a land trust and a private landowner (state agencies and public municipal property sometimes, too) to permanently conserve their property.  The Trustees first CR protected 65 acres of land in Sherborn, fittingly next to our very first Reservation, Rocky Narrows.  Since then we have worked to protect over 390 parcels on about 21,000 acres statewide, making us the largest private holder of CRs in Massachusetts. This has been an integral, if not highly visible, method for The Trustees to protect land beyond our reservations.  After taking the CR, The Trustees DO NOT own the land, but we partner with the landowners to ensure permanent protection of the property.
Though it is not our goal to own CR properties, many great relationships with CR landowners have eventually resulted in generous donations of their land to become new reservations or pieces of reservations - for example FarandnearCedariver, and Rock House Reservation were first protected by our CRs before the landowner donated them to become reservations, while Crane Wildlife RefugeRocky NarrowsBrooks Woodland Preserve, and Menemsha Hillshave all been greatly expanded by contributions of CR parcels to become part of these reservations. 

The historic Brickyard site on Martha's Vineyard, long privately owned and subject to a 1990 CR, was recently generously donated to The Trustees and will soon become part of Menemsha Hills reservation
But what is a CR exactly?  And why are they important?  Why should the public care? How do The Trustees meet their stewardship responsibilities as a CR holder?
CRs, known as conservation easements (or CEs) in the other 49 states, are a legal agreement to permanently protect land, usually between a granting private landowner with a conservation organization. The landowner continues to own the land, but agrees to manage it according to certain prohibited uses and allowed activities. By law, CRs must provide public benefits. Some of these benefits may include protection of scenic views, enhancing public water supply protection, or wildlife habitat protection. CRs do not require a landowner to provide public access to their property, though a small number choose to do so in a limited capacity, perhaps by providing a trail easement to reach a Trustees reservation or other conservation land across their otherwise private land. CRs are meant to last forever, and are recorded at the county Registry of Deeds with the property's chain of title, and even when the land is sold, the future owners are bound by its terms. The importance of CRs for protecting our state's forests, farms, and threatened habitats is huge. With so many farms converted to subdivisions in recent decades, and nearly two thirds of Massachusetts forests owned by private landowners, typically in relatively small parcels compared to the land ownership pattern in western states, CRs between conservation organizations and willing forest landowners are one of the best tools to ensure that wooded and working landscapes in Massachusetts and New England remain largely intact.

Our CRs protect important wildlife habitat, including drinking water and swimming holes for the occasional bear family!

The negotiation of CR terms is a balancing act – the holding conservation organization wishes to see the most beneficial conservation outcome, but the needs of the landowner to continue using the land are also vitally important. Every CR document is different as a result of balancing landowner needs with conservation needs.
Hypothetically let's imagine a family owns a 100-acre farm, one of the last traditional farms in their community, which sits on prime agricultural soils, and abuts a Trustees' reservation. The family is generously willing to place a CR on the land to ensure that their land always remains in farming, though they need to make sure that the practical aspects of farming are allowed uses in the CR. Recognizing that their teenage daughter dreams of running the farm one day, the landowners see a possibility that she may wish to have one more house built on the property. They therefore propose that the CR allow structures for agricultural uses on a designated part of the property totaling 5 acres.  Another term allows for construction of one house in the future on a 2-acre lot on the property. After negotiation, The Trustees would recognize this as a good outcome. With no CR, there is the possibility that after the current landowners' death, the remaining family members might prefer to sell the land to become dozens of two-acre house lots. Not only would that be a sad outcome for the last farm in the community, but it would mean the waste of valuable agricultural soils, and a lost opportunity to connect conservation lands. Under the CR, one future house and new agricultural buildings would be allowed, while most of the property cannot be built upon and would remain in farming and as forest forever.

CRs on farms, such as Spring Street Farm in Millis seen here, balance permanent land protection with helping a successful community farm thrive.
The Trustees are responsible for stewarding all CRs that the organization holds. What do we mean when we talk about CR stewardship?  As opposed to direct stewardship and management of our reservations, CR stewardship involves partnering with the landowners to build positive relationships with them, promoting great land management practices, and meeting our legal obligation to monitor compliance with the CR terms and ensure permanent protection of the land. Our team of professionals in the CR Program must annually visit each and every property around the state to meet with the landowners, inspect the land, and complete reports documenting changes to the property. Other aspects of the job include:
  • serve as a resource to CR landowners for referrals to foresters, invasive plant management specialists, surveyors, and other land management professionals; 
  • negotiate certain activities on CR properties only allowed with permission of The Trustees; 
  • create and maintain a Baseline Documentation Report (BDR) of maps, photos, and resource documentation for each and every CR property; 
  • tracking changes in CR property ownership and working cooperatively to educate new landowners about the CR terms; 
  • working to resolve any violations of CR terms.
These are no small tasks for stewarding nearly 400 CRs, but the work balances working outdoors with office time, and presents the opportunity to work with fascinating landowner partners and their beautiful properties. There is rarely a dull moment! We hope you will stay tuned to The Trustees' social media each month for a featured story about some of these amazing CR properties and landowners from our CR Stewardship team!

Some members of the CR Program staff pose last year on a private CR property by a sign for public access to a hiking trail.

Friday, April 10, 2015

The Trustees of Reservations Applies for National Land Trust Accreditation Renewal

We are excited to announce that The Trustees of Reservations is applying for renewal of its 2010 national Land Trust Accreditation award!  The Trustees is currently one of eleven Accredited land trusts in Massachusetts and 301 nationwide (click for list of accredited land trusts).  Accreditation renewal will provide independent confirmation of the soundness of the practices of The Trustees of Reservations and its supporting organizations.  Land Trust Accreditation must be renewed every five years, during which time the Accredited organization operates under Land Trust Standards and Practices, and works to accomplish any Expectations for Improvement for the organization set by the Land Trust Accreditation Commission. 
You may have noticed the silence of this blog since last June!  Our Land Conservation and Conservation Restriction program staff have been hard at work ensuring that we complete conservation projects under the Land Trust Standards and best practices, and updating our baseline documentation reports (BDRs) - the required documentation of conservation values and property conditions for CR properties - for nearly 300 of our 390 CRs across the state.  These updates ensure that every BDR meets the current Accreditation standards.  Updating BDRs was among the single largest tasks necessary for The Trustees' Accreditation renewal over the past five years!  If you are a CR landowner, you likely received an updated BDR thanks to the tireless work of our staff.  With this herculean task nearly behind us, we hope our readership is excited for more news from out "On the Land" in 2015. 

2014 CR Program staff- L to R, Justina Smith (former BDR Assistant), Sally Naser (CR Program Manager), Jennifer Garrett (BDR Specialist), Andrew Bentley (CR Stewardship Specialist).  Not pictured: Sandy Lower (CR Program Assistant), Dani Christopher (former BDR assistant)
The following is the official press release regarding our Accreditation application.  
The Trustees of Reservations Applies for National Accreditation Renewal

Boston, MA – March 5, 2015 – The Trustees of Reservations, the nation’s oldest statewide land trust and one of Massachusetts’ largest conservation nonprofits, today announced that the organization is applying for accreditation renewal through the Land Trust Accreditation Commission.  The Accreditation Commission accredits land conservation organizations that meet specified standards for protecting important natural places and working lands forever. The Trustees of Reservations was originally awarded accreditation in 2010 and is now applying for the renewal of that accreditation. The Trustees of Reservations’ supporting organizations, including the Massachusetts Land Conservation Trust and the Boston Natural Areas Network, will also be applying for accreditation concurrently.  A public comment period is now open for those who wish to contribute.

The Land Trust Accreditation Commission, an independent program of the Land Trust Alliance (LTA), conducts an extensive review of each applicant’s policies and programs. Since its founding in 1891 by open space visionary Charles Eliot, The Trustees of Reservations has served as a leader in the conservation community, striving to set the highest standards of ethics and performance in its ongoing care and maintenance of 113 reservations located on more than 26,000 acres across Massachusetts. Accreditation renewal will provide independent confirmation of the soundness of the practices of The Trustees of Reservations and its supporting organizations.

The Commission invites public input and accepts signed, written comments on pending applications. Comments must relate to how The Trustees of Reservations, the Massachusetts Land Conservation Trust, or the Boston Natural Areas Network, comply with certain of LTA’s Standards and Practices. These standards address the ethical and technical operation of a land trust. For the full list of standards see

To learn more about the accreditation program and to submit a comment on The Trustees of Reservations, the Massachusetts Land Conservation Trust, or the Boston Natural Areas Network, please visit Comments may also be faxed or mailed to the Land Trust Accreditation Commission; Attn: Public Comments: (fax) 518-587-3183; (mail) 36 Phila Street, Suite 2, Saratoga Springs, NY 12866. Comments on will be most useful if received by April 24th, 2015.

The Trustees of Reservations
The Trustees “hold in trust” and care for properties, or “reservations,” of irreplaceable scenic, historic, and natural significance for the general public to enjoy. Founded by open space visionary Charles Eliot in 1891, The Trustees is the world’s oldest land trust and one of Massachusetts’ largest conservation and preservation non profits. Supported by more than 100,000 members and donors and thousands of volunteers, The Trustees own and manage 113 spectacular reservations – from working farms, historic homesteads, and landscaped gardens, to community parks, barrier beaches, mountain vistas and woodland trials -- located on more than 26,000 acres throughout the Commonwealth.

A leader in the conservation movement, The Trustees has both served as a model for other land trusts, nationally and internationally, and worked with hundreds of community partners to preserve open land and the character of local communities statewide.  In addition to managing and caring for its own holdings, The Trustees also holds perpetual conservation restrictions on more than 20,000 acres—a total larger than any other conservation organization in Massachusetts—permanently protecting scenic and natural areas from development, and has worked with communities and other conservation partners to assist in the protection of another 24,000 acres around the state. 

With hundreds of outreach programs, workshops, camps, concerts and events annually designed to engage all ages in its mission, The Trustees invites you to Find Your Place and get out and experience the natural beauty and culture our state has to offer. For more information, visit:

Monday, March 30, 2015

Wildlife Tracking Workshop, April 4 2015 - New Salem, MA - with Mt. Grace Land Trust!

Signs of Spring may not be everywhere yet, though hints like grass patches poking out beneath the glaciers, an increase in cheery morning bird songs, and an occasional day above 32 degrees sure are encouraging!  This Saturday morning, April 4th, the conservation restriction team of The Trustees of Reservations along with the Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust invite you to discover signs of spring wildlife movement with us.  We will be hosting a FREE wildlife tracking workshop led by ecologist Bill Lattrell on a wooded property under CR with Mount Grace, located above TTOR's Bears Den Reservation.  We invite you to come learn about wildlife tracking and sign, habitats for different woodland species, and tips for setting up wildlife cameras.  The different land conservation organizations at work in the beautiful North Quabbin region will briefly be discussed - Bears Den reservation and the Bullard Farm CR sit amidst thousands of acres protected forever by partners that include TTOR, Mount Grace, Mass Audubon, and different state agencies.   This is a rare opportunity to explore a protected private property and slots are limited, so please RSVP - you can click here for an online registration page or reply to the phone number or email address listed on the flyer below!