In our work at TLC, we are often reminded of the power of the individual to make a profound difference in the world. An acre at a time, and after twenty years, nearly 3 square miles of land have been permanently preserved in one of the fastest developing counties in the US (until the recession, that is).
But TLC & McHenry County are not the only groups and places that are experiencing a groundswell of private land conservation.
The first census of conservation land trusts in five years found 10 million new acres conserved across the US since 2005, including over 90,000 acres in Illinois and 1,360 acres by TLC here in McHenry County.
The National Land Trust Census, released by the Land Trust Alliance, shows that voluntarily protected land increased 27 percent between 2005 and 2010. In the same time period, the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, a major federal conservation program, added just over 500,000 acres and saw a 38% funding cut. You can find the census is online at www.lta.org/census.
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 conservation land trusts. A high percentage of the new acreage comes through local land trusts like The Land Conservancy of McHenry County. In Illinois, land trusts conserved over 90,000 acres between 2005 and 2010, a 42% increase in land protected when compared to 2000-2005. Given declining state and federal budgets for land preservation, this news offers some encouragement: individuals are stepping up and working with nonprofits to help guarantee a legacy of land will be passed down to future generations of Americans!
In McHenry County, TLC permanently preserved 1,360 acres of natural, agricultural and scenic land between 2006 and 2010, a five-fold increase from the 257 acres we had protected from 1991-2005. An important factor in that growth has been an enhanced Federal Income Tax deduction for landowners who place a voluntary, permanent conservation restriction on their land.
But, the biggest factor in the growth of local private land preservation is the fact that McHenry County residents value the land and all it provides. And, local people are investing in our future by working with TLC to ensure clean water, local food and places to play for our children and for generations to come.