Agriculture, Land Protection, Supporting MALT

FAQ on MALT Practices

March 26, 2021

MALT is in the midst of our re-accreditation process by the Land Trust Alliance, which happens about every five years. As we gather documentation and information for this complex process, we’d like to take this opportunity to address some commonly asked questions about what we do and how we operate.

Frequently Asked Questions

How does MALT protect agricultural land in Marin County?

MALT purchases agricultural conservation easements to permanently protect agricultural land for agricultural uses. MALT fairly compensates landowners for the decrease in value of their property that comes with giving up their development rights forever.

What is an agricultural conservation easement?

A MALT agricultural conservation easement is a voluntary legal agreement between MALT and a landowner. MALT easements prohibit non-agricultural residential and commercial development, subdivision and other uses or practices that are detrimental to the agricultural and natural resource values of the land. MALT easements are perpetual; they remain in effect on the land regardless of changes in ownership.

Who owns the land in an agricultural conservation easement?

The landowner owns the land and retains many of their rights, including the right to manage the land for farming and ranching. By restricting certain uses — specifically, prohibiting non-agricultural residential and commercial development — an agricultural conservation easement lowers the value of the land. MALT purchases easements from landowners to compensate them for the loss of that value, but the landowner continues to own the land.

What is MALT’s role in stewarding easement-protected properties?

Once the easement is recorded on the property, MALT has an obligation to visit the property annually to ensure that the easement terms are being honored. MALT also consults with landowners about permitted uses that require MALT’s approval, and offers technical assistance for natural resource concerns.

How are easements valued?

The value of an easement is set by an independent, third-party appraiser. The terms of each agricultural conservation easement are tailored to the unique conservation values of each property, and MALT’s staff works with the appraiser to ensure that the appraisal accurately reflects the terms of the easement. After the appraisal is completed, the landowner can then choose to sell the easement at that price or decline MALT’s offer.

How does MALT fund the purchase of easements?

MALT’s agricultural conservation easements are a legal tool to permanently protect agricultural land for agricultural use. There is federal, state and local funding available for agricultural conservation easements, and MALT leverages public funding with private donations to purchase easements.

How does MALT evaluate properties for easements?

MALT agricultural conservation easements require that protected properties continue to operate as working farmland, providing sustainably-grown food to Marin County and Bay Area communities while safeguarding wildlife habitat and the ecological health of the region. For this reason, MALT has the obligation to ensure that landowners of properties covered by MALT easements are willing and qualified to abide by these requirements and keep their land in agricultural production in perpetuity.

What are public benefits to MALT’s agricultural conservation easements?

MALT’s easements protect Marin agricultural resources so that Marin farmers and ranchers can continue to produce food and fiber for future generations. MALT easements also protect valuable habitat, riparian areas, open space, natural resources and scenic vistas.

MALT’s easements and subsequent stewardship assistance help mitigate climate change, including sequestering carbon, and promote clean waterways, healthy ecosystems, protected habitat for native fish and wildlife and scenic vistas.

What is MALT’s Stewardship Assistance Program (SAP)?

Through MALT’s Stewardship Assistance Program (SAP), MALT works in collaboration with the Marin Resource Conservation District (MRCD) to fund conservation practices and projects on MALT-protected land. For example, MALT works with the MRCD and other partners to protect and restore creeks and streams, provide water infrastructure to improve grazing practices and implement climate-beneficial conservation practices as well as cutting-edge sustainable agriculture practices.

Since its inception nearly two decades ago, SAP has invested more than $1 million in conservation projects on more than 50 MALT-protected farms, ranches and dairies across Marin County. By helping to protect sensitive habitats across West Marin and by scaling climate-beneficial farming in Marin County, SAP also helps implement the Marin Climate Action Plan.

Is MALT an accredited organization?

Yes, MALT is accredited by the Land Trust Alliance, a national land conservation organization based in Washington, D.C., that represents more than 1,000 member land trusts and their 4.6 million supporters nationwide. Land Trust Alliance accreditation is a complex, multi-step process that results in a national seal of approval that a land trust is working at the highest professional standards. MALT was first accredited by the Land Trust Alliance in 2010 and re-accredited in 2016, and MALT is currently undergoing its next re-accreditation process, on track to be completed in 2021.

Is MALT a non-profit organization?

Yes, MALT is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization.

What are the responsibilities of MALT’s board of directors?

MALT’s Board of Directors guides the organization and provides financial and operational oversight. With 18 members, the MALT Board reflects the diversity of the Marin County community and includes farmers and ranchers, business professionals, lawyers, financial experts and community members.

How are board members chosen, and do they serve for specific time periods?

Since its inception, MALT has been a partnership between farmers and ranchers and the community. MALT’s organizational documents require that at least 50% of the Board of Directors must be agriculturists. Members are interviewed, vetted and selected by the Board Governance Committee and approved by the full Board. Terms are for three years, and board members may serve up to three consecutive terms.

MALT has recently updated a number of its policies and practices. What prompted the updates, and what are the new policies and practices?

Recently, MALT staff has worked to evaluate and strengthen the organization’s policies and practices to ensure that MALT’s work is consistent with the best practices for land trusts established by the Land Trust Alliance.

Here are some recent updates to MALT’s policies and practices:

  • An updated acquisitions policy that provides clear guidance about the properties that are eligible for a MALT conservation easement and the process for completing the easement transaction.
  • An updated conflict of interest policy, which prohibits MALT from purchasing agricultural conservation easements from sitting board members and their immediate families.
  • Changes in board-level practices, including ending MALT’s longstanding tradition of inviting a member of the Marin County Board of Supervisors to sit on the board, and ending a previous bylaw that called for two members of the board to be appointed by the Marin County Board of Supervisors.
  • Updated transparency guidelines that make information about MALT’s finances, operations and policies more easily accessible.
  • Initiation of an annual community meeting, open to the public, during which MALT staff will share information about recent easement acquisitions, discuss stewardship work on MALT-protected land and answer questions.