Land Trust FAQ

What is a land trust?

There is no legal definition for "land trust" or "land conservancy;" it is a term generally used to describe non-profit conservation organizations that either acquire land or hold conservation easements, or both.  Land trusts work in partnership with landowners and communities to permanently conserve natural resources.  Many of our nearly 50 land trust members work regionally across several counties, and some work in very specific locales like individual townships or watersheds. Some are large national organizations with chapters in Wisconsin, like the The Nature Conservancy.    As nonprofits, all land trusts are governed by volunteer boards of directors and many also have professional staff.  Land trusts are the fastest growing conservation movement in the United States.

As a landowner, how can I protect my land?

Landowners can work with non-profit land trusts, and sometimes public agencies and programs to protect their private land from future development. Some of the legal tools available are:

  • Leaving land to a land trust through your estate;
  • Donating a conservation easement, i.e., a permanent conservation restriction, to a land trust or government agency;
  • Selling the land or a conservation easement to a land trust or public agency.

Click here for detailed information on the conservation options available and to download fact sheets on conservation options for landowners.

How do I find a land trust to work with?

Land trusts are independent nonprofits that define their mission and service areas. Some define their service areas by  county boundaries, others focus particular watersheds or ecosystems.  Most areas in Wisconsin have a land trust nearby. For a Wisconsin land trust directory, click here.

We recommend that landowners define their own conservation goals for their property in addition to meeting with the land trust to learn about their mission and the services that they can provide.

Will working with a land trust reduce my property taxes?

Many landowners hope that recording a conservation easement on their property will reduce property taxes; however, that is not necessarily the case. Under Wisconsin law, there is statewide guidance that directs local tax assessors to consider the effect of an easement on fair market value, but does not require the assessed value to be reduced. The Wisconsin Assessor’s Manual directs assessors to take into consideration the specific restrictions and circumstances in each easement they encounter. 

Is Gathering Waters a land trust?

No, Gathering Waters is Wisconsin's Alliance for Land Trusts. While we do not protect land directly, we support land trusts by:

  • Providing training opportunities, technical assistance, and legislative lobbying support;
  • Educating landowners about land trusts' work;
  • Promoting public awareness of land trust accomplishments across the state; and
  • Facilitating collaboration among Wisconsin land trusts.

To learn more about us, click here.

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