RI Land Trust Council - Major Accomplishments 2003 through 2012
Since 2003, the RI Land Trust Council has:
- become a respected and effective voice for land trusts and the land conservation community in state policy discussions;
- established a strong grassroots network of land trust leaders and partnerships with other organizations; and
- organized programs to help land trust leaders learn the latest information and develop skills and strategies to be more effective.
Land Conservation Funding
- Secured over $63 million in Land Conservation Funding through 2004, 2008 and 2012 State Open Space Bond Referendums. The Council led the multi-partner campaigns that built legislative support in the RI General Assembly to put these bonds on the ballot and then generated overwhelming statewide support by voters: 70.8 % voter approval in 2004 and 68% voter approval in 2008; and 69% voter approval in 2012. In 2004, the open space bond received more votes than any other ballot initiative or candidate.
State Policy and Legislation
- Championed State Policy & Legislation to support land trusts and safeguard protected lands. Since 2004, the Council has successfully promoted legislation that supports land trusts and safeguards protected lands, as well as prevented legislation that would be detrimental to land trusts and our hard-won land conservation accomplishments.
- Protected State owned open space land at Big River Management Area by stopping the precedent setting development of a new state office complex on this conservation land. (2005)
- Defended conserved open space across Rhode Island by preventing legislation that would have permitted development of affordable housing on lands preserved by conservation easements. (2006)
- Initiated and successfully promoted the adoption of legislation that:
- Stipulates there can be no net loss of state protected open space land. (2006) Rules adopted to implement this legislation require the state to mitigate for the use of any open space land for development or other purposes with a replacement parcel that has equal market value, natural resource value and size. (2010)
- Requires notification of conservation easement holders as “abutting property owners” during the municipal planning and zoning process when any property with a conservation easement is proposed for rezoning or subdivision. (2006)
- Stopped the planned sale of the state's Camp Pastore (purchased by the state in the 1920's as part of Burlingame State Park) to fund annual state operations. (2007)
- Defends land trusts' protected lands from adverse possession claims by abutting landowners who encroach on these parcels (2008). This Council legislative accomplishment was spotlighted in “Saving Land”, the journal of the national Land Trust Alliance.
- Enables Trustees and Executors of Estates to donate a conservation easement not specified in a will and, thereby, benefit from federal estate tax incentives (2009)
- Expands the real estate sales disclosure required by people selling a property protected by a conservation easement. (2009)
- Exempts land trusts from a costly State-required CPA audit that was triggered if a land trust received a donation of a property or conservation easement worth more than $500,000. (2009)
- Explicitly authorizes the Attorney General to enforce and defend conservation easements and enables land trusts to recoup the legal costs they incur when they defend a conservation easement against violations. (2010) Rhode Island is only the 8th state in the country with this explicit authority for the state Attorney General.
- Establishes a system of checks and balances to protect conservation easements from amendments that would be detrimental to the natural resource values the easement is written to safeguard. Proposed amendments must now be reviewed by the court. This legislation also clarifies that conservation easements are not terminated by merger or if there is a foreclosure on a property protected by a conservation easement. (2011)
- Helps to defend non-profit land trusts from “third party” lawsuits that are filed by neighbors of land that is protected by a land trust’s conservation easement. It can cost land trusts thousands of dollars to defend their conservation easement from these lawsuits. (2012)
- Prompted the RI Agricultural Land Preservation Commission (ALPC) to revise its conservation easement rules and policies to better align with nationally recognized best practices.
- Prompted RIDEM and its Narragansett Bay Training Program to develop a conservation easement handbook and provide training for municipalities that are considering and approving conservation subdivisions. This manual and the accompanying training provided by RIDEM will ensure better protection of open space lands in these subdivisions.
- Prompted RIDEM to remove Black Point – a state protected open space land – from site consideration for development of a commercial wind turbine. The state acquired Black Point by condemnation in 1989 specifically to protect the unique and scenic shoreline from development to preserve its long-standing use for public recreation. (2009)
- Convened Farm RI 2.0 – a day-long forum to discuss Rhode Island's farm conservation issues and began crafting the next generation of strategies for protecting the state's working farms. Produced videos and reports of the forum. (February 2010). Results from the forum are incorporated in the state's strategic plan for Agriculture published by the Agricultural Partnership (April 2011).
Grassroots Network, Coordination, Collaboration & Partnerships
- Grassroots Network – The RI Land Trust Council has established an effective grassroots network among the state's land trust and land conservation leaders. The network is cultivated through a periodic eNewsletter filled with information on workshops, funding opportunities, and other essential information to help land trust leaders effectively run their organizations. The eNews is supplemented with "Action Alerts" as needed to build political support for legislation. Our grassroots network is a critical key to the Council's state funding, legislation and policy accomplishments.
- Partnerships – The RI Land Trust Council's Executive Director fosters coordination, collaboration and partnerships among land trusts and between the land trust community and other organizations. The Council initiated the Land & Water Partnership in 2003 and is a founding member of two very effective partnerships – the Coalition for Water Security and the Conservation Stewardship Collaborative. The Executive Director also represents the land trust community and fosters networking and collaboration with other statewide partnerships: Environmental Council of Rhode Island; RI Housing KeepSpace Advisory Committee; Agriculture Partnership; and Historic Preservation Roundtable.
- The Council has forged a strong Partnership with the national Land Trust Alliance. (Alliance) In 2004, the Council played a leadership role hosting the National Land Trust Rally in Providence and helping the Alliance organize field trips, keynote speakers and venues. In 2011, the Council signed a memorandum of agreement with the Alliance to partner on an initiative to increase land trust excellence. The Council is also a partner in the Alliance's national Conservation Defense Network and collaborates on state, regional and federal policy issues.
Capacity Building - Strengthening Land Trusts
- Land & Water Conservation Summit – The RI Land Trust Council's signature event is the annual Land & Water Conservation Summit held each March. This day-long event, organized in collaboration with Narragansett Bay Estuary Program and RI Association of Conservation Commissions, has become the premier annual opportunity for Rhode Island's grassroots environmental leaders to network, learn new skills and hear the latest information about land and water conservation. Since its inception, the Summit has developed an impressive roster of keynote speakers, complemented by over 27 workshops on a broad range of land and water conservation issues and organization development topics such as fundraising, strategic planning, Board governance and public relations. The Summit attracts over 300 attendees each year.
- Workshop Series - Since it was formed, the RI Land Trust Council has continued to sponsor a series of workshops for land trust leaders to increase their skills and knowledge and to help them implement best practices for all aspects of land conservation, stewardship and land trust operations. The Council also has facilitated organizational self assessment workshops for the boards of eight land trusts and helped them identify priorities for self improvement.
- Innovative Back Office Support Initiative – The Council (with partners) developed innovative systems to help land trusts: maintain their membership and donation records; improve membership renewal and growth; grow their fundraising capacity and contributions; and improve their volunteer management. The software system adapted for this project, SalesForce, is now used by land trusts in Rhode Island and across the nation (a project of the Land & Water Partnership) as an efficient and cost effective system to maintain membership and fundraising records.
- Land Conservation & Stewardship Resources – website - In January 2007, the Council and our watershed partner launched the RI Land & Water Partnership website as a resource for land trusts and watershed organizations: www.landandwaterpartnership.org. This website is the “depository” of workshop presentations from the Land & Water Summit and the Council's workshop series. It houses a robust resource library of the information we collected on fundraising, membership database systems and volunteer management as part of the Back Office Support initiative. In 2009, as one of the first projects of the Conservation Stewardship Collaborative, an on-line library was established on the website with information on all aspects of stewardship for protected lands and watershed conservation.