The Role of Land Trusts in Preserving Coastal Land: A Case Study of Little Compton, Rhode Island

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in Marine Affairs


Coastal land conservation is becoming increasingly important in the face of growing coastal population and the resultant development pressure in coastal communities. This case study examines three methods of land conservation in the town of Little Compton, Rhode Island. Governmental regulation, publicly funded acquisition, and land trusts are investigated. The strengths and weaknesses of each method are evaluated in terms of their application in Little Compton. Land trusts were found to provide the most effective means of coastal land conservation in Little Compton, both in number of acres protected and in the permanence of that protection. Trust protect 530.7 acres, or nearly 87 percent of the conservation land within the specified coastal zone. Problems with governmental regulation are found to be primarily due to inherent constitutional limitations to land-use regulation and lack of adequate enforcement of existing coastal land use regulations. The primary shortcoming of publicly funded acquisition is the lack of a sustained source of funding. Current legislative initiatives may be able to improve the effectiveness of regulation and publicly funded acquisition. However, applied as they are now, the effectiveness of these two methods may be improved through the activities of land trusts. Trusts can often offer skills and resources useful to town agencies in areas such as real estate, conservation land management, and creative financing. Land trusts and government agencies can cooperate to make a far more powerful tool for coastal land conservation than any of the three methods alone.

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