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Land trusts are non-profit, non-governmental conservation organizations that actively work to protect natural resources through partnerships with public and private landowners. These community-based organizations are run by local people having a shared passion for preserving their communities’ natural heritage. Land Trusts are created to protect land and water resources for the benefit of the public.


Ozaukee Washington Land Trust has a 30 year history of working with willing landowners to permanently conserve the lands and waters that make our corner of Wisconsin so special.

Land trusts can be local, regional, statewide or even national in focus, i.e. The Nature Conservancy. They are funded largely through membership dues and private gifts, although some state and federal grants may be available for land preservation projects. Land trusts vary in size and most are staffed by volunteers, although some organizations maintain professional staff.

Many landowners have spent decades living on and stewarding their property. Successive generations of some families have done so for over a century.  These landowners often desire to preserve for future generations the landscapes they have worked hard to restore and improve.  Whether securing fertile farmland from development so that it is available and affordable for future farmers, or maintaining clean lakes and mature forests for fish and wildlife, these landowners want future generations to have an opportunity to experience these scenic and open landscapes as a vital part of their cultural heritage.

The Ozaukee Washington Land Trust employs nine staff members at it’s West Bend headquarters in the West Bend Depot. This dedicated group is supported by part time help, consultants, interns, and a dedicated group of volunteers. The trust could not achieve all that it envisions without these inspired and committed conservation minded individuals. The Ozaukee Washington Land Trust has a active Board of Directors who are instrumental in guiding the organization.

More than 4 million acres have been protected by some 1,300 land trusts nationwide. Wisconsin is home to approximately 55 land trusts that have protected about 250,000 acres of forests, wetlands, wildlife habitat, river corridors and open space. Although each land trust across the state is unique in its mission, vision, size, and scope, we advocate for conservation awareness and engagement opportunities to benefit the communities we serve.  For more information about other Wisconsin land trusts outside the Ozaukee Washington County area, contact Gathering Waters Conservancy, Inc.

Gathering Waters Conservancy is a land conservation organization formed in 1995 to assist land trusts, landowners and communities in their efforts to protect Wisconsin's land and water resources. Established by a coalition of land trusts, Gathering Waters serves as an education and technical assistance center for land trusts and landowners alike. Gathering Waters also works directly with concerned landowners and existing land trusts statewide to preserve Wisconsin's natural heritage and rural landscape. To learn more about Gathering Waters, see their website at

In partnership with willing landowners, works to protect land through three primary methods:

Conservation Easements:

A conservation easement is an interest in land providing organizations such as land trusts the ability to constrain certain activities and uses of the land to foster specific conservation objectives.

The legal document used to grant a conservation easement includes a description of the property being protected (which can include some or all of a particular parcel of land), the conservation objectives for the protected property, and a list of current and future activities and uses agreed upon by the land trust and the landowner to be consistent with achieving the desired conservation objectives.

The conservation objectives serve a clear public benefit and typically focus on protecting landscape features such as fish and wildlife habitat and similar natural ecosystems, open space (including farmland and forest land), and scenic vistas.

The activities and uses available to the landowner on a particular property are often visualized as a bundle of sticks.  Subject to local zoning ordinances, these “sticks” may include the right to construct a residence or garage, to subdivide land for more intensive development, or to convert land from fields and forests to commercial or industrial uses.

Owners of land subject to a conservation easement maintain a great deal of control over their property including the right to lease, mortgage, or sell their property, and maintain control over access to the property.  It is rare for a conservation easement to provide for public access, and when it does it is done to accommodate a specific use over a specified location – such as for the Ice Age Trail.

Conservation easements held by OWLT run with the protected property, from one landowner to the next, in perpetuity.  In this way, permanent and effective conservation is achieved while the land remains in private ownership.  OWLT currently holds over 50 conservation easements on nearly 4,200 acres.

Nearly all OWLT’s conservation easements have been donated by landowners; although, in some circumstances, we have been awarded funds from conservation partners to compensate landowners for the conservation easement.

Land Purchase: With the financial support of OWLT members, and in partnership with other conservation agencies, OWLT raises funds to purchase targeted properties that have been prioritized for conservation. In instances where fair-market real estate values exceed the availability of funds, many landowners have been able to donate a portion of the value of their property as a charitable gift.

Lands acquired by OWLT in this manner are then managed by OWLT as nature preserves.

Gifts of Real Estate: Some landowners have donated property to OWLT as a current gift, by gifting the property while retaining a life interest, or as a deferred gift through their estate plans.  These properties can be in a relatively natural condition (e.g., forest, wetlands) or already developed (e.g., investment property, commercial property). Properties with significant conservation value are typically retained by OWLT and become nature preserves, while other properties can be sold, per the donor’s charitable intentions, in order to fund OWLT’s community conservation work.

Municipal Collaboration: OWLT frequently works with local agencies and communities in conserving natural areas by providing advice and assistance in land acquisition and stewardship.  Some examples of our partnerships include Sauk Creek Nature Preserve (Port Washington), Mequon Nature Preserve (Mequon), Greg Preserve (West Bend), Lion’s Den Gorge (Town of Grafton), Wildcat Preserve (Hartford School District) and the forthcoming Cedar Gorge Clay Bluffs.

If you are interested in learning more about land protection options you may contact Steve Henkel, Land Protection Director at

OWLT’s 10 Step Landowner Guide.

Pursuing a land protection project requires a robust review and we advise landowners to allow 8-12 months to complete a conservation easement project and 12-24 months for an acquisition or an easement project where OWLT will be raising funds to complete the transaction. The outline below provides a typical workflow for conservation projects.

  1. Landowner engages with OWLT to discuss the preservation opportunity.  Through this introductory conversation we discuss important features of the property (e.g., location, acreage, natural land and water features) and the landowner’s conservation goals including their desired preservation path via the protection options mentioned above.

  2. OWLT performs a desktop review to understand the property’s conservation context to determine where the project ranks in its land protection priority.  This process includes reviewing online resources such as aerial photos, local and regional planning documents, conservation funding programs and priorities, and proximity to currently conserved properties.

  3. For projects that make it through the desktop review filter, OWLT staff meet with the landowner on-site to further evaluate and document current conditions.

  4. For conservation easement projects, in particular, the landowner is asked to provide OWLT with a short narrative further refining their land protection goals.

  5. OWLT staff compiles the information from the desktop review, site visit and owner’s narrative for presentation to OWLT’s Land Conservation Committee (LCC), which is composed of community members and members of the Board of Directors.

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