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Thousand Islands Watershed Land Trust 101

(photos) Central Park, New York City, U.S. | Zenda Farms, part of TILT in U.S.

Land trusts are non-governmental registered charities that conserve land.

They are community-supported through memberships, donations, and volunteers. They can be local, regional, province wide or national in scope, involved in protecting natural, scenic, recreational, agricultural, historic, or cultural property.

An important distinction of land trusts is that they are fundamentally “direct action” organizations rather than environmental advocacy groups. Their main activity is the protection of ecologically important land. There are several types of land trusts such as farmland trusts, community land trusts, historical trusts or land conservation trusts. The latter is the most common type in Canada.

Land Trusts are used in the USA too. Central Park in New York city is land held in trust by the city, for the common good of the people. Here in the 1000 Islands area Thousand Islands Land Trust (TILT) is a “sister” organization protecting lands on the USA side of the St. Lawrence River.

History of Land Trusts

The land trust movement began in Britain and the United States at about the same time in the late 19th century. The National Trust was founded in Britain 1895 by three Victorian philanthropists. Concerned about the impact of uncontrolled development and industrialization, they set up the Trust to act as a guardian for the nation in the acquisition and protection of threatened coastline, countryside and buildings. More than a century later, it has grown to care for over 248,000 hectares (612,000 acres) of beautiful countryside, plus more than 700 miles of coastline and more than 200 buildings and gardens of outstanding interest and importance.

In the U.S., the land trust movement began when Charles Eliot, a young landscape architect, established the Trustees of Reservations, the first private nonprofit conservation organization of its kind in the country. It continues its work today and has been joined by larger organizations such as The Nature Conservancy (in 1951) which has protected more than 117 million acres of land and 5,000 miles of rivers worldwide, and The Trust for Public Land (in 1972) whose 3,500 land conservation projects in 47 states protects more than 2 million acres.

British Land Trust
British Land Trust

Land Trusts in Canada

Until recently the situation in Canada has been for the federal and provincial governments to preserve land for wildlife habitat and recreation through their systems of parks and reserves. There was no tradition for land trusts and in fact no legal structure for them at the provincial level. Canada’s only national land trust has been the Nature Conservancy of Canada which was formed in 1962, Since then, NCC and its partners have helped to conserve close to 2 million acres (809,371 hectares) of ecologically significant land nationwide.

The development of local and regional land trusts throughout Canada began in the early 1990’s. Our Canadian Thousand Island Heritage Conservancy was one of the first. By 1998 there were approximately sixty known trusts operating in Canada and there were over eighty in 2001. Now there are over forty in Ontario. Collectively, these organizations comprise a powerful group in the conservation sector that is committed to the preservation of our important landscape features. They are linked in Ontario by the Ontario Land Trust Association and nationally by the recently formed Canadian Land Trust Association.

What do land trusts do?

Land trusts use a variety of approaches to achieve their land conservation objectives including:
  • Purchase of threatened lands
  • Encouraging and accepting outright donation of lands
  • Property management
  • Acquiring conservation easements to secure permanent protection of landscape features without direct ownership
  • Transferring of lands to an appropriate management agency (such as a government park or wildlife agency)
  • Providing environmental education and working cooperatively with landowners through private land stewardship programs
  • Carrying out evaluations to determine landscape conservation priorities
  • Advocating protection priorities to government
  • Raising funds through private donations or government funding programs
  • Conducting biological research

Advantages of a land trust

Land trusts are positive.

They work to protect the beauty of natural areas and open space, rather than fighting pollution and other types of environmental degradation.

Land trust deals are non confrontational.

They are voluntary. Land trusts work with willing owners to help them protect their land. There is no loser in the battle because there’s no battle.

Land trust accomplishments are permanent.

At the end of the cooperative process, the land is saved in perpetuity.

Land trusts are not new, dating back to Roman times, but more common in Medieval Britain and Europe.

Many were then and even today lands held by/trusted to third parties. The earliest forms of land trusts as we know today were lands central to communities and countrysides, generally called “commons”. They were lands, parks and forests held in common by someone trusted, or for the people or communities, in trust for public benefit by head of state, government agencies or formed organizations.

Systems of parks, from national to community, are in effect lands in trust. The first land trust in North America for the purpose of conservation land dates from 1891. But since the mid 1900s, land trusts for conservation of ecological values have exploded in number, to thousands worldwide.

The Thousand Islands Watershed Land Trust was one of the earliest in Canada, forming in 1993. It was originally called the Thousand Islands Heritage Conservancy (CTIHC), because in that time period, the term “land trust” was not recognized by the government in Ontario as a legal term for an entity. The CTIHC reincorporated federally in 2006 as the Thousand Islands Watershed Land Trust. The CTIHC worked just in the area between the international border and the 401 highway, from Gananoque to Brockville. The Thousand Islands Watershed Land Trust (TIWLT) operates more broadly, in the east half of the Cataraqui Region Conservation Authority, in the section in Leeds-Grenville.

Over the past 27 years, TIWLT has worked not only in conserving habitat, but in the development of conservation entities that advance conservation in Canada.

  • TIWLT was a founding member of the Ontario Land Trust Alliance, the Canadian Land Trust Alliance, and US-based American Friends of Canadian Conservation.
  • TIWLT wrote the successful nomination and sponsorship for the UNESCO Frontenac Arch Biosphere Reserve.
  • TIWLT brokered the transfer of provincial lands to Parks Canada, to double the size of Thousand Islands National Park (and drafted the federal bill to change the name of that park, formerly St. Lawrence Islands National Park).
  • TIWLT has added several properties to increase the size of Charleston Lake Provincial Park by a third.
  • TIWLT has added 5,000 acres to conserved land at this crossroads of the continent – all as a volunteer non-profit charity.
  • TIWLT has a working farm partner, Ironwood Organics, to expand capacity in heritage crop production and research (landrace grains, bean and potato varieties), soil studies and biodiversity protection strategies.
  • TIWLT works in education programs with the public, municipalities and Queen’s and McGill Universities.
  • The Thousand Islands Watershed Land Trust is a federally incorporated, non-profit charity; and recognized by the IRS as a qualified done.