In October 2009, the Thousand Islands Land Trust (TILT) in Clayton, NY was accredited by the Land Trust Accreditation Commission. Of the 1700 land trusts across the United States, TILT is one of 82 which have been accredited.
It took several years for the (Land Trust) industry to design and create the accreditation process. When the Washington Post published a series of stories about dubious land deals and conflicts of interest within the leadership of a large conservation organization, the coverage caught the eye of Congress. Hearings concluded with a report from the Joint Committee on Taxation.
As the IRS became more involved in the investigation, the Land Trust Alliance decided to create an Accreditation process for its member land trusts to “provide public recognition of land trusts that are engaged in the long-term protection of the land in the public interest…(and) increase public awareness of, and confidence in, land trusts and land conservation” according to the Land Trust Accreditation Commission.
The Land Trust Alliance had already established a set of Standards and Practices in 1989 when the land trust community voiced a need for credibility and effectiveness for all its members. The Alliance revised those Standards and Practices in 2004 and the Thousand Islands Land Trust adopted them in June 2005.
In 2006, the Land Trust Accreditation Commission was created with 13 members from across the US to begin evaluating land trust’s policies and procedures and recognize them for meeting national standards for excellence, upholding the public interest and ensuring that conservation efforts are permanent.
Andrew Wood, TILT Executive Director states, “After adopting the Alliance’s Standards and Practices, it was a natural step for TILT to apply for accreditation when the Commission called for applicants in 2007. Thus making TILT one of first 100 land trusts to apply in the first year.
After close to a year spent collecting information, answering questions, copying documents, the application was submitted to the commission. Their review was a multi-tiered process as well, involving first a request for in-depth information about specific properties as well as some procedures. Then committee members participated in a telephone conference with the commission, much like a thesis defense.
There is a tragic component to this success story for TILT. The application was developed while Aaron Vogel was Executive Director. In fact, the document represents so much of the work Aaron did in his tenure with the land trust, it is a testament to his skill and talent. He personally delivered the application to the Commission’s office. A few weeks later, Aaron died suddenly.
The TILT office went quiet on that October morning when the call came in from the Land Trust Accreditation Commission. “We were pretty confident that our application was successful,” said Andrew Wood, “but there is always an element of doubt. It was an enormous relief and a very proud moment. I only wish Aaron were here to see it.”
The commission provided assistance throughout the rigorous process, making certain that TILT had the tools it needed to be accredited.
There are twelve standards, with multiple practices pertaining to each one. For instance, Standard 11 is “Conservation Easement Stewardship.” Practices which must be followed include Easement Monitoring, Landowner Relationships and Enforcement of Easements. The land trust must adhere to these standards and practices in each land transaction.
Land is America’s most important and valuable resource. Across the country, local citizens and communities have come together to form land trusts to save the places they love. Here in the Thousand Islands, TILT has received, via donations, or purchases, over 4,000 acres of rocks, shoals and marshland, islands, forests, farm land and a 22-mile abandoned rail line. The Trust also manages easements on 4,000 acres of privately owned land.
“We feel great satisfaction that we meet the highest standards for land trusts in the country,” said Wood. “But this is also significant for those whose property we protect through conservation easement, because it assures that we are well equipped to protect those lands in perpetuity.
By Susie Wood, Thousand Islands Land Trust
Susie Wood is Membership Coordinator for the Thousand Islands Land Trust. Her family has vacationed in Chippewa Bay for four generations. Susie and her husband, David Duff, live year round in Macomb, NY, about 6 miles inland from the river. She has been associated with TILT for over 20 years.
Editor’s note by Susan W. Smith: I am now in my second year as President of TILT. It is a real honor to be among the initial group of 100 of the USA’s Accredited Land Trusts and TILT was featured in the Alliance’s September 30th press release. Preserving the places we love in the Thousand Islands is our role, a role we take very seriously and it would not be possible without the financial-and-other support given over the last 20+ years by TILT’s loyal members, and friends… and thus “Full TILT Ahead”….