Activating Community Land Trusts for Biodiversity: People-plus-Properties

Leverage our historical Land Trust assets of regional stakeholders and properties into a practical, nimble, future-focused action force.

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Eligibility Criteria

  • I confirm that I am fully aware of the eligibility criteria and terms of the Act for Biodiversity Challenge and that I am eligible to apply.
  • I am 18 years old or older.

Initiative's representative name

Maeve McGowan, Land and Development Coordinator with the Kennebec Estuary Land Trust

Initiative's representative date of birth

May 20th, 1998

Initiative's representative gender

  • Woman

Headquarters location: country

  • United States

Headquarters location: city

Bath , Maine

Where are you making a difference?

The nine towns and surrounding lands and waterways of the Kennebec Estuary in Maine: Arrowsic, Bath, Bowdoinham, Dresden, West Bath, Georgetown, Richmond, Westport Island, and Woolwich.

Website or social media url(s)

Website: Facebook: Linked In: Instagram:

Date Started


Project Stage

  • Scaling (expanding impact to many new places or in many new ways)

Yearly Budget : What is your current yearly budget for the initiative?

  • €100k - €250k

Organization Type

  • Nonprofit/NGO

1. Founding story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that led the founder(s) to get started or the story of how you saw the potential for this project to succeed.

Our organization, the Kennebec Estuary Land Trust (KELT) was founded in 1989 by a handful of individuals with a shared interest in protecting ecologically and historically significant land. KELT was formed in response to an increasing worry that there would be no wildlife or land left undeveloped for future generations to explore, appreciate and connect to. Through 30 years of conservation, KELT has grown into a regional leader in land protection, habitat restoration, environmental education, and citizen science. These four program areas, the fundamental pillars of KELT, intersect in a dynamic way that are enabing our evolution from pure conservation to active, evidence-based, quick-responding steward of biodiversity across the region.

2. The problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

Emerging environmental, health, and related problems outpace big institutions and complex policies that can provide infrastructure and resources over time, but often aren’t swift or locally adaptable enough to stop emerging problems before critical damage is caused. Society needs ways to monitor specific biodiversity risks and trigger quick, practical, adaptable, scientifically- and locally-informed actions (solutions).

3. Your solution: How are you working to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

KELT is moving beyond its traditional land conservation role, building on the community assets we have cultivated over the last 30 years to also actively monitor and respond to specific ecological risks that arise in the region. We combine local scientific knowledge with strong relationships with landowners, local public and private sector partners across sectors, engaged citizens throughout the towns and farms in our region, and solid relationships with institutions elsewhere that continue informing and sharing what we do here. We now aim to mobilize these assets to catalyze swift, community-informed, evidence-based solutions each time a biodiversity risk arises. While this Changemakers application is classified under the “forests” focus area, our biodiversity protection and enhancement efforts truly extend across all three focus areas: forests, urban areas and agriculture. Most specifically, KELT now engages citizens of all ages to be active citizen scientists and environmental stewards. For example, we now enlist community members in observation, data collection, and direct action -- from monitoring water quality to alewife migration to plant species inventories and more.

4. Innovation: How are you innovating or using unique approaches to solve the problem?

This is a dynamic learning process. Foremost, as already indicated, we are re-imagining how traditional land trusts work. We are leveraging our unique networks of land and people in new ways, building from protection and education to more active monitoring and action. This is new. We envision becoming a quick-response force for tackling specific ecological and biodiversity threats detected. Towards this goal, we are also experimenting with other emerging innovations, such as using bioindicators and sophisticated laboratory analysis to monitor water quality, wildlife, changes in plant species, and toxic chemicals on land and waterways in our region, and sharing this transparent data to help identify risks and activate successful responses.

5. Collaboration: How does your initiative seek to bring key players together to preserve biodiversity?

Collaboration is THE key element of our strategy. We connect and activate our existing network of citizens, landowners, schools, businesses, environmental groups, and municipal governments. We also collaborate with other land trusts throughout the state of Maine, local businesses and organizations, and the local school system, working with individuals of all ages and interests. It is only our established relationships and reputation among all these stakeholders, in addition to our science and land ownership credentials, that can enable our new vision as practical, nimble, effective action force for biodiversity and ecology. Beyond local borders, we also participate in and share lessons actively with land more traditional trust associations nationally, and we are collaborating with other innovators in this field through the international Nourishment Economies Coalition. We also hope to share learning and strategies dynamically with others we meet through this Changemakers challenge.

6. Impact: how has your project made a difference so far — in terms of both business outputs and social impact? How do you plan on measuring progress?

We are seen increasingly as the “go to” organization for environmental action in our communities. Including our collaborative efforts, we have protected more than 18,000 acres of significant habitat which is home to diverse wildlife including 5 federally endangered species. Within this protected land, we have 12 preserves open to the public, free of charge. Annually, we engage more than 1,300 kids in educational programming, involve 900 volunteers in stewardship and citizen science, and donate 800 pounds of fresh produce from our garden to local food pantries. Examples of activating these resources in new ways is our recent identification of an unexpected pesticide called Benalaxyl on plants at five diverse sites throughout our region, and our detection of a risk to pollinators within the city because of low levels of flowering plants in late summer. These discoveries have catalyzed collaborative research with students and organizations to identify and remedy these biodiversity risks.

7. Growth strategies: what are your main strategies for scaling your impact?

While already achieving direct impact, we're now launching our next-generation community action programs. The learning and financial resources from this Changemakers competition would help expand these programs, enabling us to build our staff and volunteer capacity to support robust projects and programs, such as our efforts to grow and donate food, monitor local crops and pollinator populations, and involve students, educators and volunteers more deeply. This support would enable KELT to connect with even more individuals and organizations, and to offer unique action opportunities to our volunteers that they wouldn't have otherwise, such as monitoring of grassland bird breeding populations or data about pollinator populations and risks.

8. Creating shared value: How does your initiative create value for society? Or different stakeholders?

Our initiative creates multifaceted value for society by combining support, service and science. We support those facing food and nutrition insecurity and inequity by growing produce and coordinating regional food security efforts. We conserve land and maintain public trails year-round, free of charge, thus promoting mental and physical health while facilitating ecological monitoring. We offer diverse opportunities for individuals to explore the natural world through a scientific lens and then contribute to conservation actions. Our work engages stakeholders concerned with recreation, education, social resiliency, food security, science, and ecological and economic well being.

9. Financial sustainability plan: can you tell us about your plan to fund your project and how that plan will be sustainable in the short, medium, and long term?

KELT just celebrated its 30th anniversary. We are well-known in the community not only as an organization that effectively protects lands that contribute to the area’s biodiversity, but increasingly as THE local organization driving local environmental stewardship. We generate revenue through membership fees, local and regional grants, and roles we play in government programs (such as acquiring and protecting waterfront properties in collaboration with federal wetland conservation initiatives). We are confident that with additional resources through awards such as this, we’ll scale our projects in ways that continue to attract more individual and private funding.

10. Team: what is the current composition of your current team (types of roles, qualifications, full-time vs. part-time, board members, etc.), and how do you plan to evolve the team’s composition as the project grows?

KELT has six full-time staff including: an executive director, a program director, projector coordinator, land and development coordinator, communication and education coordinator, and regional field team. This team plus our board members bring a diversity of experience in ecological and climate sciences, educational program development, bird and fish conservation, volunteer mobilization, and land assessment and acquisition.

11. How did you hear about this challenge?

  • We learned about this challenge through our colleagues at the Nourishment Economies Coalition

12. Connection to Biodiversity: How does your project directly contributes to preserving and/or restoring biodiversity? Please share data to support your answer.

All of our citizen science projects help inform KELT's priorities for acquiring and managing land, education with the public and our collaborators, and risk remediation actions. A specific example, which this award's funding would support, is our Bobolink monitoring program. This would track the reproductive success and status of a breeding population on one of our preserves, thus informing land management stakeholders in how to best protect the species. For Bobolinks, a bird that nests in active agricultural fields, timing is everything. If haying, which is necessary to maintain habitat conditions, intersects with their nesting efforts, ~99% of nests will fail. Overtime, the population will ultimately crash. When the timing of haying allows for breeding to complete, chances of survival for increase by >25%. For a species as threatened as the Bobolink, which is classified as a Species of Greatest Conservation Concern in Maine, this enhanced survival is crucial for population stability.

13. Example: Please walk us through one or two concrete examples that show how your solution will solve the problem you’re trying to address.

We increasingly activate our diverse constituents in new, meaningful, and personal ways by involving them in all our projects. Those connected to food security efforts, as recipients or volunteers, enable broad community action. Recipients receive fresh produce, free of charge, while volunteers help to grow and deliver food, serving neighbors and learning about sustainable local food production in ways that are crucial now more than ever. Volunteer citizen scientists explore the local estuary through unique and influential programs, like monitoring water quality and plankton levels along our coast, an issue of interest among scientists and commercial fisherman alike. Not only are our volunteers learning through involvement in enriching studies, they are broadening our community's understanding of the science of the natural world, its changes, its threats and potential solutions. These benefits and others, such as those provided by our lands and trails, are available to everyone.

14. Marketplace: Who else is addressing this problem in your environment? How does your proposed project differ from these other approaches?

While Maine is abundant with land trusts and other nonprofits concerned with conservation and environmental education, KELT stands out as a action leader by going beyond -- increasingly activating our networks and properties for direct citizen science and risk remediation. We are honored to serve our community in a responsive manner, answering the call for what is needed most even if it is outside the realm of conservation. This ability has been particularly actualized in response to COVID-19. KELT has adapted to provide citizen science opportunities virtually, to connect our members to the land from afar, and to amp up our food relief program to serve our communities' immediate and longer term needs. Our projects are distinguished in their diversity and depth, all connecting vibrant natural and social ecology. Our mission is built by every member, volunteer, and beneficiary. KELT is a land trust driven not only by conservation, but also by community development and action.

15. Awards & Recognitions: What awards or recognitions, if any, has the project received so far?

KELT works diligently to meet high standards in all aspects of our work, as reflected by our renewed accreditation from the Land Trust Accreditation Commission every five years. Our impact in the community earned our recognition as Maine's Best Land Trust in 2017.

16. Financial Sustainability – funding breakdown: Please list a quick breakdown of your funding, indicating an estimated percentage that comes from each source.

Restricted grants: 57% Restricted gifts: 4% Membership donations: 6% Special events: 1% Sponsorships: .2% Unrestricted grants: 13% Fees for Services: 5.5% Property Donations: 6% Investments: 1% Other: 6%

17. How do you plan to influence your field of work if you are a winner of the Act for Biodiversity Challenge? How would you invest the prize money to leverage your work?

If KELT is chosen as a winner of the Act of Biodiversity Challenge, prize money will support KELT citizen science actions, overall and specifically the Bobolink initiative and further action on the experimental plant diversity, pesticide, and pollinator work started last year, which overlap with KELT's lands, educational, and food production programs as well. All of which connect at the intersection of community engagement and supporting active biodiversity and ecology. We will continue to grow as a leader in our region by setting an example of community-driven work, striving to bring our founders' vision to fruition while also responding to the ever-changing and fluid conditions of the world around us. We are committed to conserving land and ecology for perpetuity while also supporting our community, at the local, regional and state level, in any way we can.

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