Local Land Conservation in Maryland

Aerial View of Newport Farm Abstract

There are thousands of organizations working around the world to protect land that is facing rapid and sprawling development, to conserve it for its valuable natural attributes. Hundreds of local conservation organizations in the United States have formed to protect the character and health of land in their communities. These organizations have been established by individuals who recognize that protected land could enhance the quality of their lives in many ways--its scenic and recreational potential, its influence on property values, and the multiple ecosystem services it provides, such as storm water buffering and maintaining atmospheric balances. Local land trusts are contributing greatly to land conservation by putting together a mosaic of protected land in the state of Maryland and around the country. Private landowners are voluntarily giving up the development rights on their properties and, in this form of local-level activism, are declaring their property protected from development in perpetuity.

Land trusts are both directly and indirectly protecting ecosystems in the state of Maryland. Most trusts deliberately create flexible criteria to evaluate land that they may protect, since properties vary greatly in their attributes. However, even without strict ecological guidelines, more than 50% of land protected by The Maryland Environmental Trust (MET), a statewide land trust, met the standards of one of Maryland's most rigorous land conservation funding programs, GreenPrint, without intending to. Parcels that are not eligible for GreenPrint funding may still serve valuable conservation functions if they form clusters or corridors of land that will be permanently protected from development.

This paper examines the criteria trusts use to assess parcels of land and the contributions of trust-protected land to ecological conservation in Maryland. Information was collected through interviews with representatives of 28 different land trusts in Maryland. Analysis of the ecological attributes of land protected by trusts in the state of Maryland was conducted using databases maintained by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and an assessment tool that was created in part to prioritize parcels for GreenPrint funding.

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