More Land Trust Survey Results: Successes and Looking Toward the Future

Wisconsin land trusts have a lot to be proud of—and big plans for the future.

In this Part 2 of “The Results Are In,” we share what Wisconsin land trusts said, in response to our April survey, about their successes, needs, and visions for the future. (See Part 1 for conservation priorities and resources for land acquisition and management.)

What recent accomplishment is your land trust most proud of?

  • Land protection, including working with landowners to protect many acres of lakeshore, wetlands, farmland, wildlife habitat, community forest, and special places throughout the state
  • Restoration of shoreline, wetlands, prairie, and pollinator habitat
  • Programming that provides quality education for youth and the broader community
  • Partnerships, such as working with Boy Scouts on trails, community collaboration to protect farmland for immigrant farmers
  • Organizational successes, like financial stability, developing a strategic plan, working through a tough issue, achieving accreditation, and receiving recognition as Land Trust of the Year by Gathering Waters

Besides adequate funding, what is the single greatest obstacle to accomplishing your mission?

 Capacity was the most frequent response, including:

  • The need for more staff, and more diverse board members to carry on with the organization
  • The challenge of effectively engaging and managing volunteers, and of moving from an all-volunteer to staffed organization
  • The difficulty of prioritizing conservation challenges and opportunities to have the greatest impact, and doing so at a scale that makes a difference
  • Finding long-term, committed donors and raising annual operations support

Also on the list of obstacles was a lack of public awareness and political will—from a “failure [of the public] to understand what we do and the importance of our mission to the quality of life in our region” to a “lack of commitment to land conservation” among elected officials.

Other responses called out the need for available land, willing landowners, and community buy-in.

What do you think your land trust will look like in 10 years?

  • Many survey responses included aspirations to increase land trust staff and board capacity, and the scale and scope of work.
  • Land acquisition and easements are expected to continue as a focus, with several land trusts anticipating expansion of their service areas.
  • Others expect to see a shift from land acquisition to stewardship as a focus, and building capacity in restoration and community engagement. They also recognize the need to “stay ahead” with current easements with succession to new land owners.
  • Program areas that land trusts want to continue to build are landowner services, advocacy, conservation education. They would like to be seen as conservation leadersas community organizations, not only an environmental ones.
  • Several, particularly those working on a relatively local scale, envision maintaining their current scope, ensuring that lake shores, natural areas, and farmland continue to be protected.
  • While there is concern about funding, particularly with uncertainty about state and federal support, some land trusts are looking to build endowments for staffing and operations through bequests.
  • Respondents also indicated they would expand partnerships, and anticipate joining forces locally or regionally with other land trusts in mergers. They noted the need to plan for leadership transitions.
  • They also anticipate increased residential pressure as well as increased demand for outdoor access. As one respondent put it:

I believe that public support for land trusts will grow as will the public’s demand to have more land trust land open to the public for recreation. This will have to be balanced against the need for quieter preserves for wildlife habitat and contemplative study.

How can land trusts connect the dots from successes to obstacles to these visions for the future? 

Up next: Wisconsin land trusts’ priorities for training and collaboration.