Our wildlife sanctuaries are made possible thanks to the generosity of landowners like you. The Humane Society Wildlife Land Trust (the Trust) has always depended on the donation of land or conservation easements to fulfill its mission of protecting wildlife by protecting habitat. We appreciate that these are usually heartfelt donations with great personal and financial value.
Since the land and conservation easements are donated, people often wonder why the Trust still needs financial support and why the Trust asks the landowner to make a financial contribution in addition to donating property or a conservation easement. The reason is that protecting land in perpetuity comes with significant financial and stewardship responsibilities.
Initial visit and transaction expenses
The process of considering a donated title or conservation easement begins with a phone call with the landowner to learn more about the property and their long-term goals. If the property seems like it would be a good addition to our network of sanctuaries, we will arrange a property visit and in person meeting.
If all goes well at the initial property visit, we begin our pre-acquisition due diligence process; the steps to ensure that the property is what it appears to be and that all the legal requirements are met. For conservation easements, this includes title research, a baseline documentation report and an environmental database search to document the conservation values of the property. For land donations, this includes title research and a Phase I environmental site assessment. The Trust must hire professional consultants to do this work. Some properties require more documentation, such as a boundary survey.
Monitoring and other expenses
When we accept a gift of land or a conservation easement, the Trust takes on significant and permanent stewardship responsibilities. The Land Trust Alliance's standards and practices that the Trust has adopted specify that inspections should be done at least annually to ensure that restrictions of a particular conservation easement and land donation are being honored. That annual monitoring obligation, together with follow up inspections and actions, if needed, and other inspections to address emergent situations, requires adequate funding.
Additional costs can include signage, liability insurance and habitat enhancement projects. For many sanctuaries that the Trust owns, we must pay property taxes which can be up to $6,000 annually.
The Trust also must have sufficient resources to actually respond to a violation, through litigation if necessary. While we always hope to avoid going to court, if we do, the cost is likely to be extremely high, possibly over $100,000. While we participate in the Land Trust Alliance’s insurance defense program, some costs of litigation may still need to come from our own assets.
Like all land trusts, we raise the funds needed for monitoring and enforcement in various ways. Those include broad fundraising efforts to our members, constituents and other supporters, as well as periodic outreach to foundations and major donors for funding for particular elements of our protection work. However, it necessarily also involves looking to our land and conservation easement donors to make appropriate arrangements for financial support in addition to the land or easement itself. This support can come in the form of cash or other assets, such as stocks, bonds and even insurance policies. It can come immediately on an annual or other periodic basis, or through a bequest in your will or trust. Support of the Trust’s perpetual wildlife protection efforts can also be given in a way that will provide you with annuity income for the rest of your life.
In asking for that kind of support, we recognize that many if not most of our landowners are making a financial commitment by the land or easement donation in the first place, often stripping most of the property's value from the land in their effort to ensure its perpetual protection. In many cases, however, the donors are able to receive significant tax benefits as a result of their charitable donation. As a publicly regulated charity and a land trust, we also have to be realistic and take appropriate steps to ensure that we can honor the promise we make to donors who will be entrusting the permanent protection of their property to us. That forces us to have what can be at times a difficult conversation about shared responsibilities, but one that we hope our donors understand and appreciate.
The work necessary to complete a conservation easement or land donation will take about nine to 12 months and will require financial investment by the Trust and the donor. Detailed information on the costs of protecting your land is available upon request.