Want to make a real environmental impact? Use this Season of Giving as an opportunity to give to organizations fighting for the issues you believe in, like the protection of natural places. Each week during the holidays Everyday Earthiness is posting lists of great environmental organizations that need your help, starting with last week’s post: “34 Ways to Support Climate Action”. This week we’ll take a look at some of the best land conservation organizations.
Land conservation issues
Land conservation can mean a whole lot of things, such as protecting an area from development, contamination, overuse or pollution, protecting the water sources and habitats of an area, protecting the wildlife in that area, preserving wilderness or creating a balance of conservation and access for humans, maintaining trails and campsites, preserving open space, protecting forests, reforesting degraded areas, protecting soil health, developing sustainable land use strategies, preventing erosion and cleaning up trash. Often there is overlap between land conservation organizations and organizations that focus on conserving forests, wildlife, rivers, wetlands, and so on.
Land conservation is not limited to protecting natural spaces for aesthetic reasons. Forests, soil and vegetated land provide crucial carbon sinks for cleaning greenhouse gases out of our air and helping to fight global warming. Therefore, climate change is a critical issue in land conservation. Wetlands are crucial to filtering toxins out of our water, so land conservation means protecting our drinking water supply and also the plant, animal and marine life in our food chain that depend on clean water.
One pressing issue facing land conservationists is energy infrastructure. Just as our energy policy decisions influence our economy, climate change and the quality of our air and water, so too do they impact land. Some conservation groups focus on strategies to ensure that energy transition lines, pipelines, fracking, solar and wind farms don’t cause too much damage to ecosystems and water sources.
Another major land issue is the growing human population on earth, which increases the demand for food, fiber, energy and housing and exacts a heavy toll on land, forests, grasslands and wetlands. Conservation means finding sustainable solutions to meet society’s needs while keeping vital ecosystems healthy, water sources clean and plentiful and soil productive.
How to support conservation organizations
- Donate – Environmental action groups need funding to operate and make an impact, so donations are the most important way to help these organizations. Remember, one-time donations are wonderful, but monthly donations are the best way to keep these organizations working effectively and efficiently.
- Participate – Signing petitions, calling your representatives, attending rallies and protests, attending community meetings and legislative sessions, writing letters to the editor, listening to organization podcasts and reading news updates, volunteering to work and spreading the word on social media and elsewhere are all great ways to help out local and international environmental organizations.
- Visit – Traveling to threatened or protected natural spaces (in responsible ways, of course) increases your awareness about and appreciation for those special places and their delicate ecosystems and can have the added benefit of funding (through entry fees, tour company fees, trail fees, campsite fees, etc) conservation and preservation efforts.
- Create a conservation easement – A conservation easement is a voluntary legal agreement between a landowner and a land trust or government agency that permanently limits uses of the land in order to protect its conservation values. This is the number one way to preserve privately held land and often offers huge tax benefits. Plus, landowners retain many of their rights, including the right to own and use the land, sell it and pass it on to their heirs.
- Participate in Youth Programs – From nature walks to day camps to volunteer programs, many land and wildlife conservation organizations and nature preserves host youth programs to educate and inspire the next generation of environmentally aware citizens.
Land conservation organizations
1. Sierra Club -The national foundation has a principle focus of combating climate change through moving away from fossil fuels and protecting our wildlands. Their “Our Wild America” campaign fights to preserve America’s wild heritage in the face of threats from mining, drilling, and climate disruption by protecting national monuments and wilderness, protecting and restoring forests, protecting natural places near cities and suburbs for human access and protecting public lands from destructive mining and drilling. Local chapters in each state organize and fight for local environmental issues. Charity Navigator Rating: 4 stars / 94.08 score / 88.5% spent on the programs and services it provides.
2. National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) – This non-profit uses law, science, and the support of its members and online activists to protect the planet’s wildlife and wild places and to ensure a safe, healthy future. NRDC protects wildlife, resources and unspoiled lands from the threats of industrial development, commercial exploitation, pollution, and climate change. NRDC also works on climate change, oceans, water, health, food and community issues. Charity Navigator Rating: 4 stars / 96.35 score / 86.35% spent on the programs and services it provides.
3. The Nature Conservancy -The only environmental charity listed among the 50 biggest U.S. charities. TNC’s priorities include worldwide efforts to protect water, take action on climate change, save oceans, conserve land and transform cities using their staff of hundreds of scientists, a network of local branches across 69 countries, partnerships with companies and strategic conservation and financing. TNC purchases and manages the land it protects and encourages people to visit any of their U.S. preserves by providing this handy map. Charity Navigator Rating: 3 stars / 84.35 score / 71.2% spent on the programs and services it provides.
4. The Conservation Fund – This group practices conservation to achieve environmental and economic outcomes through several conservation-focused funds that focus on land, water and wildlife protection, infrastructure mitigation and planning, collaborative solutions, forestry and community resources. Charity Navigator Rating: 4 stars / 94.19 score / 97.3% spent on the programs and services it provides.
5. World Land Trust – WLT is a UK-based non-profit that protects some of the world’s most biodiverse and threatened habitats acre by acre, empowering local NGOs by providing finance and technical support to create and protect nature reserves, restore degraded habitats and ensure they are permanently protected. WLT purchases the lands it protects. WLT does not manage the land it acquires, but rather turns management over to local conservation organizations under the belief that the local people are the best suited to protecting lands they live on and that local knowledge about conservation is essential to its success.
6. National Geographic Society – One of the largest non-profit scientific and educational institutions in the world, using the power of science, exploration and storytelling to change the world. The Society funds more than 300 scientific, exploration and conservation projects around the world with the focus on telling the story of human life on earth, celebrating and protecting species, understanding the interconnected systems of our living planet and exploring new frontiers. Their Conservation Trust is a grant program that supports innovative solutions to conservation challenges and issues of global concern, particularly those with a strong emphasis on conservation science. Rated by Fundraiser Insight as one of the Top 12 Environmental Organizations Who Use Their Donations Well.
7. The Trust for Public Land – This group is committed to using conservation expertise to help solve and mitigate the world’s most pressing environmental problem, addressing climate change through carbon mitigation in nature, building climate smart cities and conserving vital landscapes that protect communities from climate threats. Charity Watch Rating: A score / 84% of proceeds spent on the programs and services they provide.
8. Grand Canyon Trust – This group is devoted to protecting the Grand Canyon, Colorado River and Colorado Plateau, working in four states on land, air, water, forest, river, energy, tribal and wildlife issues. The GCT uses lawyers, scientists and public policy experts to defend and improve the implementation of existing environmental laws and to create and support progressive land management policies. Charity Navigator Rating: 4 stars / 90.11 score / 79.8% spent on the programs and services it provides.
9. Access Fund – The Access Fund is the national advocacy organization that keeps U.S. climbing areas open and conserves the climbing environment. Charity Navigator Rating: 3 stars / 89.93 score / 78.8% spent on the programs and services it provides.
10. Appalachian Trail Conservancy – The ATC preserves and maintains the 2,190 miles of the Appalachian trail and protects the land surrounding the trail, from Georgia to Maine, by advocating for land protection and best management practices, assisting with the natural resource management of corridor lands, and ensuring that A.T. lands are protected for future generations to experience and enjoy in perpetuity.
11. Conservation International – CI works on issues ranging from climate change to food stability to environment protection. The organization sponsors field projects, funds scientific research and forges partnerships with businesses that can drive action on the conservation front. CI funds innovative conservation efforts to protect lands, waters and other natural resources while benefiting local communities. Charity Navigator Rating: 4 stars / 90.81 score / 83.3% spent on the programs and services it provides.
12. Environmental Defense Fund – EDF takes on the most urgent environmental threats to the climate, ecosystems, people’s health, and more by combining science, economics, and law to find practical and lasting solutions. The group is addressing upcoming population demands on wildlife, water and land by working on sustainable farming, ecosystem resilience and water rebalancing initiatives. Charity Navigator Rating: 4 stars / 94.48 score / 79.1% spent on the programs and services it provides.
13. EarthJustice – This legal group uses the power of law to take on critical environmental issues and bring about positive change by protecting the wild, promoting healthy communities and fighting for clean energy and a healthy climate. Charity Navigator Rating: 4 stars / 93.25 score / 79.6% spent on the programs and services it provides.
14. Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation – Dedicated to the long-term health and wellbeing of all of Earth’s inhabitants, LDF has given out $60 million in grants to organizations and projects focussed on climate change, innovative solutions, wildland conservation, indigenous rights, marine conservation and public advocacy. Leonardo DiCaprio is a UN Ambassador of Peace and Climate. He recently produced and starred in the climate change documentary Before the Flood.
15. Ducks Unlimited – This non-profit focuses on wetlands, waterfowl, and wildlife conservation in the U.S. and Canada, working since 1937 to protect 13 million acres and counting. DU conserves land through acquisitions, conservation easements and revolving lands strategy. They provide support to waterfowl hunters to promote sustainable and responsible hunting.
16. Nature Canada – Canada’s oldest nature conservation charity, protecting over 63 million acres of parks and wildlife in Canada. Rated by Fundraiser Insight as one of the Top 12 Environmental Organizations
17. Land Trust Alliance – This alliance of over 1100 member trusts advocates for policies and incentives to save millions of acres every year. The group promotes voluntary land conservation and works with nonprofit land trusts by providing information, skills and resources through webinars, conferences and events. Please note, this charity (like many land trusts) is for private land conservation easement supporters only, and not for those who dislike the tax benefits of conserving privately owned land (more on that here). Charity Navigator Rating: 4 stars / 92.54 score / 77.1% spent on the programs and services it provides.
18. International Land Conservation Network – ILCN connects civic and private organizations and individuals around the world to accelerate the protection and strengthen the management of land and natural resources. They provide education and training, events, webinars and publications to keep people informed about land conservation. This is not a charity, but an educational and connecting resource.
19. The Wilderness Society – This organization works to protect America’s wilderness and inspire people to care about wild places. Founded in 1935, The Wilderness Society has led the effort to permanently protect nearly 110 million acres of wilderness in 44 states. The main issues TWS addresses are land and water conservation and protection, energy and climate, forests and outdoor recreation. Charity Navigator Rating: 3 stars / 84.19 score / 77.5% spent on the programs and services it provides.
Other land protection groups:
Land Trusts – Beware, there are some land trusts that have turned their focus from working with private landowners to working with the government to purchase conservation easements, sometimes for a profit. For more on that, visit this National Center for Public Policy Research report.
Government groups – National Parks Service, State Parks, National Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, etc, all work to manage, protect and even educate others about environmental stewardship. Support these services by using, but not abusing, the land they manage, paying camping and entry fees and shopping at the NPS online store for anything from a NPS America the Beautiful Annual Pass to maps, guidebooks, t-shirts, souvenirs and much more.
Nature Preserves – Wildlife and nature preserves, protected wetlands, etc. Support these groups by visiting often, buying annual memberships, supporting children’s programming, attending events and encouraging school field trips.
Rainforest, forest and wildlife conservation groups – Many organizations allow donors to adopt, buy or sponsor acres of land to protect plant and animal life, ecosystems, water sources, medicine sources and carbon sinks. Everyday Earthiness will cover these groups in detail in an upcoming “Season of Giving” post.
For Utah locals
For those of you in my home state of Utah, please consider supporting any of the following organizations via donations, calls to take action, volunteerism and more.
Wild Utah Project, Utah Chapter Sierra Club, Swaner EcoCenter, Mountain Trails, Utah Open Lands, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Summit Land Conservancy, Save Our Canyons, Wild Earth Guardians, and Sustain Utah.
What can you do today?
Engage in environmental issues by devoting some of your annual donations to climate action, volunteering some of your time to protecting open spaces and ecosystems and to inspiring others to do the same. Be sure to spread the word about organizations you are supporting and why, information you are discovering through those organizations and ways that others can help.
Featured resource of the day: Looking to give greener gifts for the holidays that can also make an impact on land conservation? Check out our post “Green Giving: How To Give Experiences That Help The Planet” for ideas and resources on how to give nature memberships, eco-adventures and outdoor experiences and eco-tourism gifts this holiday season.
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