CRP 689.09 (formerly CRP 558) is a client-based workshop course that takes Cornell graduate students into the field to perform real-world planning projects. This interdisciplinary workshop course seeks to train the next generation of professionals in the theoretical frameworks, methods, and techniques for undertaking regional land conservation planning efforts. This workshop, in addition to others offered by the Department, has helped government agencies and nonprofit organizations, such as land trusts, overcome a variety of planning challenges.
Land trusts are private, nonprofit 501 (c)(3) organizations that focus on conserving land for general public benefit. Their efforts may include promoting biodiversity, conserving scenic viewsheds, and protecting agricultural lands for local farming. According to the Land Trust Alliance, the national trade association for land trusts, there are 1,667 land trusts operating in the U.S. today that collectively have conserved 37 million acres of land.
One of the tools used by land trusts to protect land is the conservation easement. Conservation easements restrict the development of land and can be either acquired by or donated to a land trust. Land owners who donate easements may be eligible for a tax deduction. In 2006, the federal government expanded the tax deductions for the donation of conservation easements and the state of New York launched a new tax credit program for land owners with eased property. Over 6.2 million acres of land are held in easements owned by land trusts, making these organizations significant players in real estate markets. With these increased tax incentives, land trusts need tools to help evaluate projects quickly and focus on the projects that are most important to the land trust's mission.
Each year, the workshop produces a strategic conservation plan to help guide the conservation efforts of a New York land trust. As part of the planning process, resource inventories and demographic trend analyses are undertaken by students to understand the community served by the land trust; document changes to that community; and highlight challenges to conservation. Using this information, students create prioritization tools such as project selection criteria, GIS suitability models, and focus areas to help evaluate potential projects. Where appropriate, students delineate a comprehensive green infrastructure plan, representing an integrated-resource-based network that the land trust may work towards conservation. Finally, students examine the use of land-use planning tools such as agricultural zoning, overlay districts, and seasonal road declarations to help the land trust in its task. Recommendations on financing and other implementation steps are also provided.
Deliverables from the workshop include a 70-page+ color report, Powerpoint slides, a poster, and GIS layers. Previous workshops have won both state and national planning awards, demonstrating the high caliber of work that clients receive. The client land trust provides partial funding for the workshop, GIS layers, photos and artwork, sample easements and, most importantly, the time of staff and board members. For copies of CRP 689 workshop reports see the following websites: