SWMLC Earns Accreditation

Accreditation Awarded by the Land Trust Accreditation Commission

The Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy (SWMLC) has achieved land trust accreditation, a milestone accomplishment for the 21-year-old organization. The Land Trust Accreditation Commission, an independent program of the Land Trust Alliance, has accredited only 181 land trusts out of 1,700 in the United States. SWMLC is now part of that very elite group.

"When people think of SWMLC’s mission, they think of protecting the Lake Michigan coastline, restoring prairies, and conserving fen wetlands for the Mitchell’s satyr butterfly," said Peter D. Ter Louw, SWMLC executive director. "The work we do inspires people and makes southwest Michigan a better place to live. But most of our time is spent in managing the myriad of legal, financial, and real estate details that are critical for the long-term success of any land trust. Undertaking the accreditation process allowed us to examine our organizational processes and make improvements to ensure that our work is permanent and of the highest quality."

The Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy serves the nine counties of southwest Michigan and has protected over 11,000 acres since its inception as an all-volunteer organization in 1991. SWMLC permanently protects the natural, historic, and scenic landscapes to ensure the health and quality of life for the people of southwest Michigan.

The organization is dedicated to: protecting natural areas, historic sites and open spaces; encouraging ecologically sound land practices; enabling individuals and organizations to protect land important to wildlife and people; providing opportunities and sites for education, research, outdoor recreation, and nature study.

SWMLC was awarded accreditation in August and is one of only 181 land trusts from across the country that has been awarded accreditation since the fall of 2008. Accredited land trusts are able to display a seal indicating to the public that they meet national standards for excellence, uphold the public trust and ensure that conservation efforts are permanent. The seal is a mark of distinction in land conservation.

"Accredited land trusts meet national quality standards for protecting important natural places and working lands forever," said Commission executive director Tammara Van Ryn. "The accreditation seal lets the public know that the accredited land trust has undergone an extensive, external review of the governance and management of its organization and the systems and policies it uses to protect land."

According to the Land Trust Alliance, conserving land helps ensure clean air and drinking water, food security, scenic landscapes and views, recreational places, and habitat for the diversity of life on earth. In addition to health and food benefits, conserving land increases property values near greenbelts, saves tax dollars by encouraging more efficient development, and reduces the need for expensive water filtration facilities. Across the country, local citizens and communities have come together to form more than 1,700 land trusts to save the places they love. Community leaders in land trusts throughout the country have worked with willing landowners to save over 47 million acres of farms, forests, parks and places people care about. Strong, well-managed land trusts provide local communities with effective champions and caretakers of their critical land resources, and safeguard the land through the generations.

Ter Louw summed up the value of accreditation by noting, "SWMLC has been able to do some really great conservation work over the last 21 years. That work was validated when we were selected in 2010 to receive the National Land Trust Excellence Award by the Land Trust Alliance. Becoming an accredited land trust is further validation that SWMLC does only the highest quality work."

The Land Trust Accreditation Commission, based in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., awards the accreditation seal to community institutions that meet national quality standards for protecting important natural places and working lands forever. The Commission, established in 2006 as an independent program of the Land Trust Alliance, is governed by a volunteer board of diverse land conservation and nonprofit management experts from around the country. More information on the accreditation program is available on the Commission’s website, www.landtrustaccreditation.org.

The Land Trust Alliance, of which the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy is a member, is a national conservation group that works to save the places people love by strengthening conservation throughout America. It works to increase the pace and quality of conservation by advocating favorable tax policies, training land trusts in best practices and working to ensure the permanence of conservation in the face of continuing threats. 2012 marks the 30th anniversary of the Alliance. The Alliance publishes Land Trust Standards and Practices and provides financial and administrative support to the Commission. It has established an endowment to help ensure the success of the accreditation program and keep it affordable for land trusts of all sizes to participate in accreditation. More information can be found at www.landtrustalliance.org.

[photo of Cook Lake Fen by Kristin Schinske]