Hundreds of acres in the Litchfield Hills are protected from development through the efforts of area land trusts.

A key part of that success is accreditation, a process many in the area are renewing now, including the Housatonic Valley Association. Accreditation builds confidence in land trusts and opens up grants, allowing for more land to be protected with conservation easements.

Tim Abbott, HVA’s regional conservation and greenprint director, said accreditation has helped the association with its capital efforts. HVA has raised $1 million since it was accredited in 2014.

The accreditation leveraged another $6 million to help land trusts in the Litchfield Hills protect 1,600 acres of land.

Abbott said he doesn’t know if it’s a direct correlation for all of the $1 million or if it’s HVA’s expanded scope, but said there is one donor who wouldn’t donate if they aren’t accredited.

Accreditation has helped land trusts across the country raise more money. An independent external evaluation of the Land Trust Accreditation Commission showed accredited land trusts have significantly bigger budgets, more staff and volunteers, have three times more land and eight times more money invested into their protected lands than their peers of similar size.

HVA was one of the first organizations in the state to become accredited. The Land Trust Accreditation Commission, an independent program of the Land Trust Alliance, will use the renewal process to ensure HVA is following its policies and procedures, as well as improving in certain areas.

“HVA has always been a land trust as well as a watershed organization,” Abbott said. “It’s in our DNA to protect throughout the watershed.”

Abbott said HVA is different from many of the other land trusts because it doesn’t generally acquire land on its own, but instead helps local land trusts do so. He said they decided to invest in becoming accredited so they could better help those groups and continue to be a leader in conservation.

The Land Trust Accreditation Commission will now review all of HVA’s documents. The public can also comment until April 21. A decision is expected to be announced in the fall.

Connecticut is no stranger to the accreditation process, especially Litchfield County. More than half of the state’s 30 or so accredited land trusts are in the northwest corner and belong to the Litchfield Hills Greenprint Collaborative, a program overseen by the HVA.

Several other groups are also renewing, or just about to start the process, including Sharon, Norfolk, Warren and Weantinoge.

“I think our collaborative approach helped,” Abbott said.

Connie Manes, HVA’s greenprint manager, serves as a consultant, helping land trusts all over New England become accredited. She also helped draft the new standards, looking at the meaningful parts of the program, culling the risks and studying the strengths.

“The creation of that code was instrumental in getting us to speak the same language,” she said, adding accreditation takes it a step further. “It brought us together in a way we hadn’t been before.”

She said land trusts protect land in perpetuity and this code allows that to happen because it requires that records are maintained appropriately.

Abbott said creating the accreditation process resulted in good changes, including ensuring protected properties were appraised correctly and the trusts were looking at the deeds.

He said within HVA, the board was able to get a better understanding of these practices through the accreditation process.

“Organizationally, it’s helped us tighten our ship,” Abbott said.

kkoerting@newstimes.com; 203-731-3345

How to comment on the plan

Comments can be submitted online at Landtrustaccreditation.org, emailed to info@landtrustaccreditation.org, faxed to 518-587-3183, or mailed to Land Trust Accreditation Commission Attn: Public Comments Mail: 36 Philadelphia Street, suite 2 Saratoga Springs, NY 12866.