What is a Land Trust?

April 26, 2024

By Gaby Batinich, Washington Association of Land Trusts

In Washington, we’re lucky to have dozens of land trusts like Inland Northwest Land Conservancy working across our state to permanently protect and steward natural lands for the public good. Yet, many people don’t realize that they can thank a land trust for the protection of their favorite hiking trail or the local farm that supplies them fresh produce. So what are land trusts, and how does their work benefit the public?

Land trusts, or land conservancies, are nonprofits that work with private landowners and community partners to conserve and protect natural spaces. Land trusts are dedicated to preserving habitats, working lands, wildlife, and waterways. They use three key approaches to do this:

1. Conservation easements: These are legal agreements between landowners and land trusts that put conservation restrictions on property;

2. Land acquisitions: The full donation or sale of property to a land trust;

3. Partnerships: Land trusts act as the trusted local partner that finances or negotiates projects and transactions without ever owning any part of the land. This includes collaborating with local governments, community-based organizations, and conservation districts. Many land trusts work closely with Tribal governments to expand Indigenous ownership, stewardship, and access to land that they have lived on since time immemorial.

Each land trust is unique with respect to the communities they serve, the areas they operate in and their goals as a group. The scope of this work often covers an entire county, but others can work on a specific local area (like Dishman Hills Conservancy) or engage statewide in conservation work (like the Trust for Public Land or the Nature Conservancy of WA). They focus on all types of outcomes including accessibility of parks and trails, salmon recovery and other habitat preservation, protecting watersheds, maintaining jobs on working lands, and more.

Beyond land protection, land trusts also lead the way on restoration, stewardship, and creating public access to the outdoors. Many land trusts partner with local schools to do environmental education programs and inspire our next generations of leaders. They organize a variety of different programs like volunteer opportunities, stewardship trainings, nature hikes, farmers markets, kids story walks, gardening…and the list goes on! As you may have caught on to by now, this work is certainly not done by land trusts alone. Land trusts are often the organizers to bring people together to protect and care for critical community spaces.

The work of land trusts rarely accomplish one thing, but rather many things simultaneously. Many projects celebrate a mix of wildlife preservation, habitat protection, access to clean water, beautiful spaces to explore, healthy lands to farm on, and so much more all thanks to the work of land trusts and local partners. Sometimes a land trust may work hard to protect land and you may never know it. The City of Spokane Parks Department now owns and maintains roughly 11 miles of the Rimrock to Riverside Corridor, yet this land was originally conserved by Inland Northwest Land Conservancy and other community members. Partnerships such as these are very common as they enable the continued care and public access to our shared lands.

At the Washington Association of Land Trusts (WALT) we serve as the unified hub and collective voice for 33 land trust members operating throughout every corner of Washington state. We work to strengthen and grow Washington’s land trust movement and advance collective conservation goals. Collectively, WALT’s land trust members have protected over one million acres of land and secured over 425 miles of trails open for recreation.

We bring our members together in coalition efforts to influence policies that affect conservation work statewide through advocacy and providing expertise from conservation practitioners to policymakers and government agencies. Through connections to statewide partners and donors, we help explore funding opportunities that prioritize the needs of on-the-ground land conservation practitioners. WALT also provides educational programs such as our conservation conference Northwest Land Camp (sign up to join us this year’s conference here), regional retreats, trainings, and so much more.

To read more about the impactful work of our network of land trusts, check out our annual state of the lands report Groundswell, which tells dozens of success stories from land trust work across the state.

Without land trusts, our beautiful state would not be what it is today. Plug into your community and find your local land trust to get involved now.

By Gaby Batinich, Washington Association of Land Trusts


Abbreviation Bank:

INLC = Inland Northwest Land Conservancy

WALT = Washington Association of Land Trusts


  1. Land Trust Alliance. (n.d.). “About land trusts”. Land Trust Alliance Inc.
  2. Washington Association of Land Trusts
  3. Inland Northwest Land Conservancy