What is a Land Trust

The term Land Trust refers to non-profit, charitable organizations which have as one of their core activities the acquisition of land or interests in land (like conservation easements) for the purpose of conservation.

The hallmark of a land trust is the direct action they take to protect the local land base, and that they hold those lands or conservation easements in trust for future generations.

Land Trusts and conservancies are generally local in scope and operation, but may be provincial, regional or even national. Most land trusts focus on conserving the biological values of land, but across the continent land trusts have been established to protect scenic, historical, agricultural, and recreational lands as well.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How do local Land Trusts work?

As non-profit incorporated charities, these organizations are able to raise funds to purchase land or restrictive covenants (also known as easements) that protect the ecological features of properties.

Local land trusts are also able to receive donations of land and easements and are mandated to protect these sites in perpetuity. Land Trusts abide by a Code of Standards and Practices and are members of the Ontario Land Trust Alliance (OLTA).

How do I start a land trust?

OLTA has created a Land Trust Starter Kit, a complete resource that helps guide interested groups through the process of initiating a new land trust in their community. We have also provided a webpage with the steps outlined, and you are always welcome to contact our office to discuss your questions and specific plans. We will do our best to assist you!

I want to donate but don't know where to start - where can I get help?

Potential donors can contact their local Land Trust directly or get in touch with OLTA and they can refer you to your local Land Trust or to a recipient organization that may potentially receive the donation. It is very important to find a recipient who you trust and feel comfortable with – you will be working with them through the entire donation process and ultimately entrusting them with your land, or an interest in your land. It is also advisable to get independent legal and financial advice about land donations.

What is the Ecological Gifts (Ecogifts) Program?

Under the provisions of the Income Tax Act (Canada), the Ecological Gifts Program (EGP) provides favourable income tax treatment to donors of ecologically sensitive lands (known as ecological gifts or ecogifts), including conservation easements.Since 1995, the EGP has become a valuable tool in conserving threatened habitats and biodiversity. As a partnership among landowners, conservation organizations and government, it provides favourable income tax treatment for land or conservation easement donations, and greater recognition of the value of individual conservation actions.Donors of wild assets ensure permanent conservation and stewardship of natural heritage. Past gifts have included wetlands, forests, prairies, and other environmentally-sensitive areas.

Gift recipients include land trusts and other conservation charities, and government agencies chosen by donors and approved by the federal government. Donors of ecogifts receive a donation receipt for the fair market value of the gift.

What income tax benefit do I get through the Ecogifts Program?

Ecological gifts (ecogifts) receive tax treatment that is superior to most other charitable gifts:

eliminated taxable capital gain on the disposition of the property (38 (a.2) ITA)
no income limit for calculating the tax credit/deduction (118.1(1) ITA)
donation value certified by the Government of Canada (118.1(10.1 to 10.5) ITA)
tax liability for donees that do not protect the gifted land (207.31 ITA)
Every case is different – seek professional advice.

Are Land Trusts only interested in protecting natural heritage or eco-sensitive properties?

Various land trusts in Ontario have diverse interests in properties. Most land trusts focus on conserving the biological values of land, but across the province, land trusts have been established to protect scenic, historical, agricultural, and recreational lands as well. The Ontario Farmland Trust, for example, is focused towards preserving agricultural lands, while the Ontario Heritage Trust is not only interested in protecting natural landscapes, but areas that have cultural value as well. OLTA can help connect you with the proper land trust or organization that would be interested in helping you protect your land in perpetuity.

How do I determine the natural value of my property?

OLTA can connect you to a Land Trust that can assist you in determining whether your site has important natural heritage features. The Land Trust can also show you how to protect your land in a way that meets your interests. Documented heritage values of interest to various land trusts include the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) Areas of Natural and Scientific Interest (ANSI) classification system, MNR’s provincially significant wetland system, municipally designated Environmentally Significant/Sensitive Areas (ESAs) and endangered, threatened, vulnerable and rare species.If you are interested in donating your land through the Ecogifts program, please consult the criteria for Ontario on the Ontario Ecogifts website, or contact Environment Canada for a copy of the criteria or to discuss your proposed donation. OLTA can help connect you with your local Land Trust, and they can help you prepare the information you will require.

What is a conservation easement?

A conservation easement is an agreement between a conservation body (the easement holder) and the landowner, with restrictions and/or allowances regarding land use (covenants) and an allowance for the easement holder to inspect the property to ensure compliance (the ‘easement’). The agreement is registered on the title of the land and remains in effect even if title is transferred. When a conservation easement is donated such a donation may qualify as an ecological gift – the easement holder is considered to be the recipient organization.

I’m an American and I’d like to make a donation to a Canadian Land Trust.  What are the tax implications of this?

A new organization has been created to support Canadian Land Trusts and their conservation efforts across Canada through cross-border conservation. The American Friends of Canadian Land Trusts was conceived through the work of the Nova Scotia Nature Trust’s cross-border conservation initiative. To learn more about the American Friends of Canadian Land Trust and how they support cross-border donations, please visit their website.

How can I continue to own my land but oblige future owners to protect its natural heritage features?

A conservation easement donated to a land trust is attached to the title of the property in perpetuity. As a result, all future landowners are bound to its terms. Current and subsequent landowners are free to sell or otherwise transfer title to the land. Yet the conservation easement is still held by the land trust and the land continues to be subject to the conditions of the conservation easement. An easement donated on a voluntary basis may qualify as an ecological gift under the Income Tax Act of Canada, allowing corporate or individual donors to obtain an official donation receipt and claim an enhanced tax benefit.