According to information from the Taos Land Trust, land conservation has made “big gains” despite recent years’ economic difficulties.
A census of land trusts revealed that they have acted to conserve 10 million new acres nationwide since 2005.
“The National Land Trust Census, released by the Land Trust Alliance, shows that voluntarily protected land increased 27 percent between 2005 and 2010,” the release states. “New Mexico, with only eight active land trusts, ranks seventh in the nation in total acres conserved.”
The Taos Land Trust is the only one based north of Santa Fe and operates in nine Northern New Mexico counties. In the five-year period examined by the census, the Taos Land Trust helped to create 18 new conservation easements. The Land Trust, formed in 1988, has completed 50 easements comprising more than 24,000 acres.
Though they sometimes compensate landowners directly, trusts often seek to protect land by offering tax deductions to landowners who create conservation easements, giving up the right to develop open spaces.
The census found that in New Mexico, the number of paid employees and contractors at land trusts had increased by 30 percent since 2005, while the number of volunteers at land trusts had increased by more than 200 percent compared to the previous five-year period. Land trusts’ operating budgets had increased by 36 percent nationwide.
“A total of 47 million acres — an area over twice the size of all the national parks in the contiguous United States — are now protected by land trusts,” a Taos Land Trust release states. “A greater percentage of the new acreage comes through local and state land trusts like Taos Land Trust. In New Mexico, the 621,051 acres protected between 2005 and 2010 represents a 30 percent increase in land protected.”
According to the census, land trusts have conserved a total of 529,811 acres in Arizona, 1.2 million acres in Colorado, 375,261 acres in Texas and 65,718 acres in Utah. As of 2010, California, Maine, Colorado, Montana and Virginia had conserved the most acres.
The Taos Land Trust thanked New Mexico congressmen Ben Ray Luján, D-NM, and Martin Heinrich, D-NM, for co-sponsoring a bill to make the conservation tax incentive permanent, but the trust warns that an important conservation tool could be lost if Congress allows the tax incentives to expire at the end of this year.
“New Mexicans of all backgrounds value their land, and we are conserving it at the community level,” Taos Land Trust Executive Director Ernie Atencio said. “We are investing in our future with land trusts that ensure clean water, local food, wildlife habitat and places to play for our children and for generations to come.”
The census can be viewed in its entirety online at www.lta.org/census.