The New Jersey Natural Lands Trust was created in 1968 by the Legislature as an independent agency in but not of the Division of Parks & Forestry in the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Its mission: to preserve land in its natural state for enjoyment by the public and to protect natural diversity through the acquisition of open space. The Trust acquires open space primarily by donations of land and easements. In creating the Trust, the Legislature’s goal was to establish an agency with the protective power of the State that would have the support of private-sector open space preservation and conservation organizations. The Trust’s autonomy is a key factor in garnering the confidence of individuals interested in preserving their land and that of the conservation community.
When the State decided to sell a portion of diminutive Mount Laurel State Park to a public utility, in spite of a deed restriction barring such a sale - and when it tried to negotiate Sunfish Pond for a silted-in reservoir and some cash - conservationists knew there must be a better way to protect state lands. At the direction of then Commissioner of the Department of Conservation and Economic Development Robert A. Roe, legislation was drafted to create the New Jersey Natural Lands Trust – an organization that could accept land donations and ensure their protection in perpetuity by resisting the exercise of eminent domain by public agencies.
The Trust manages its properties to conserve rare plant and animal species habitat and rare ecological communities. The Trust invites passive use by the public for recreational or educational purposes wherever such use will not adversely affect biological diversity. Currently, the Trust is responsible for over 26,000 acres of open space, including over 2,500 acres of conservation easements.
The powers and duties of the Trust are vested in an eleven-member Board of Trustees. The Board is comprised of six representatives from the private sector with expertise in open space and conservation, and five from State government (the DEP Commissioner and two DEP staff members designated by the Commissioner; the State Treasurer; and a member of the State House Commission). Employees of the Office of Natural Lands Management, Division of Parks & Forestry, serve as staff to the Trust and implement the policy set by the Board.
The Trust has adopted very strict guidelines against the transfer/diversion of Trust lands unless the transferee is a local government unit, nonprofit, or state or federal agency whose primary purpose is to acquire, administer, protect, develop and maintain lands for recreation or conservation purposes. See the Trust's Guidelines for Conveyance of Land for further information.