March 12, 2010

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Staff Writer

Some Maine land trusts are seeking a new national accreditation to make sure they keep the trust of donors and landowners.

The Coastal Mountains Land Trust in Camden was in the first round of 39 organizations to be accredited last fall by the Land Trust Accreditation Commission, which created a list of quality standards. Many other organizations are now going through the steps of qualifying and plan to apply within the next year or two.

''One of the most common questions I've been asked when I negotiate with a landowner is: 'I really want to take care of this land. How do I know you guys are really going to take care of it?' Being accredited is a pretty convincing answer,'' said Scott Dickerson, executive director of the Coastal Mountains Land Trust. The trust has about 7,000 acres of land, either owned outright or protected by easements, in the western Penobscot Bay region.

To be accredited, organizations have to follow conservation and management plans and create systems that guarantee real, permanent protection for their lands, among other criteria.

Preparing to seek accreditation can take years, especially for small local trusts run by volunteers, according to those involved in the process. But it leads to an improved organization, as well as a stamp of approval that assures donors, said Dickerson and others.

''From my point of view, accreditation is an absolute necessary proof that your organization means it when it says that it wants to permanently conserve land,'' he said.

The Maine Coast Heritage Trust will apply this fall, said Paul Gallay, the group's president. He led the effort to get a land trust in New York accredited before moving to Maine last year, and said the trend will strengthen land trusts and ensure that the land trust movement is sustainable.

The Maine organization's Land Trust Network is helping local groups prepare for accreditation through three-year grants that help pay for mapping, training, conservation plans and other work. Trusts can receive as much as $18,000 a year in grant money.

The Chebeague and Cumberland Land Trust, Falmouth Land Trust and Oceanside Conservation Trust of Casco Bay are working toward accreditation with the help of the grants. The accreditation goal was a main reason that the three trusts created the Portland North Land Trust Collaborative and hired a joint administrator to help all three groups.

''It seems like it's the way of the future,'' said Jessica Burton, administrator of the collaborative. ''There's a pretty good chance that eventually individuals who want to donate money or land will choose an accredited organization to give that to.''

The Land Trust Alliance, a national advocacy group, created the accreditation commission in 2006 in response to questions around the country about whether land trusts would be able to guarantee permanent protection for their lands.

In Maine, similar concerns led the Legislature to create a state registry of lands under conservation easements. The registry allows the state to step in and make sure the easements are respected if a land trust goes out of business.

Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at:

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