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Private Land Trusts Protect 56 Million Acres of U.S. Countryside

By Gustave Axelson
Klickitat River in south-central Washington. Photo by Doug Gorsline.
Columbia Land Trust has protected tens of thousands of acres along the Columbia River and its tributaries, including in this canyon carved by the Klickitat River in south-central Washington. Photo by Doug Gorsline.

From the Spring 2020 issue of Living Bird magazine. Subscribe now.

Land trusts are the hidden giant in American conservation, with more than 1,000 land trusts nationwide protecting twice as much land—in private holdings—as the entire national park system in the lower 48 states.

As one means of addressing habitat loss—the top driver of the loss of 3 billion birds in North American bird populations since 1970 (see Vanishing, Living Bird Autumn 2019)—the Cornell Lab of Ornithology launched an effort to integrate land trust conservation efforts with bird conservation. The Cornell Lab’s Land Trust Bird Conservation Initiative aims to support land trusts in prioritizing conservation lands, managing lands, and developing successful funding proposals, all while achieving strategic bird conservation goals on private lands.

At the initiative offers planning resources and tools, information about partnerships, and best-practices success stories. The Cornell Lab also launched a small-grant program for land trusts to increase the footprint and impact of bird conservation on private lands. Small-grant awardees from the Cornell Land Trust Bird Conservation Initiative in 2019 included a Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast project to restore habitat for the endangered Florida Scrub-Jay as well as the endangered Florida panther, and a Southern Appalachian Highland Conservancy project to restore red spruce/Fraser fir habitat for Northern Bobwhite quail.

Even individual landowners can get involved in efforts to protect birds through land trusts, if they place a conservation easement on their land, says Sara Barker, Cornell Lab land trust project leader.

“The protections afforded by easements are an important way for private landowners to help turn the tide on private land habitat loss and bird declines,” Barker says.

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