The Housatonic Valley Association, which serves the New Milford area, is one of just a handful of watershed organizations across the country achieving land trust accreditation from the Land Trust Accreditation Commission.

The commission is an independent program of the Land Trust Alliance.

HVA now joins just 280 land trusts nationwide, and only 10 in Connecticut, that have achieved this standard of excellence.

"We share this milestone today with another wonderful organization, and close conservation partner in our area, the Sharon Land Trust, " said Lynn Werner, HVA executive director.

"We are pleased and proud of their accomplishment, too," she added, "and know firsthand how much work it took to achieve."

Accreditation is the mark of distinction in land conservation and the "five-star rating" for this nonprofit sector.

The accreditation seal indicates that HVA meets national standards for excellence, upholds the public trust and ensures conservation efforts are permanent.

"HVA is a watershed organization and a regional land trust," said HVA President Tony Zunino, "with a strong tradition of working effectively as a trusted partner with local conservation groups and communities across our three-state area."

"Accreditation is especially important to us," he added, "because it enhances our collaborative work with our partners and strengthens land and water protection and stewardship efforts throughout the watershed."

Over the years HVA has protected thousands of acres, including the Appalachian Trail corridor along the Housatonic River in Kent, Sharon and Cornwall.

In addition to its own conservation easements and land holdings, over time HVA has assigned more than 1,000 acres to its local land trust partners to protect in perpetuity.

"This round of accreditation decisions represents another significant milestone for the accreditation program," said Tammara Van Ryn, commission executive director. "The 280 accredited land trusts account for more than half of the 20,645,165 acres currently owned in fee, or protected, by a conservation easement held by a land trust.

"Accreditation provides the public with an assurance that, at the time of accreditation, land trusts meet high standards for quality," she said, "and that the results of their conservation work are permanent."

For details about HVA, visit www.hvatoday.org.