A short newsletter of bite-size ideas to chew on for Terrafirma owner-member land trusts, released January, February, May, June, September, October and November.


Keeping Good Records

Have great records.

You always hear that, but what does it mean and how do you do it? Land trust staff and volunteers that have experienced difficult disputes, whether on easement or owned land, can offer examples. They report that they communicated quickly and clearly with the landowner or neighbor, documented those communications in a phone, email, text and letter log, then documented fully all conditions on the protected property with dozens or sometimes hundreds of labelled photos, videos, descriptions, maps and aerial imagery. They diligently followed Land Trust Standards and PracticesBob Neale, stewardship director for the Sonoma Land Trust and the lead staff for the entirety of their eight-year violation process including two appeals, said that “by following Standards and Practices diligently, we had the factual foundation in place for a solid defense that greatly supported our strong legal case.”

One of the first ways to identify facts is to prepare a timeline, including key dates such as:

  • when the relationship between the parties started;
  • when the contract was formed or when the conservation easement was signed; and
  • when a violation occurred or other legal challenge commenced.

As part of this process, you can identify key people, including witnesses. Identify key events that did not happen, such as procedures that were not followed. In addition to thinking about the key facts, consider how the facts can be shown to the landowner or neighbor, and ultimately perhaps to a judge or jury. What facts are likely to have an emotional impact or be a critical deciding factor? Make the timeline detailed and annotate it with identification of documents that substantiate the facts.

Next month we will take a look at how a record policy and procedures can help you prevail in any dispute.  

We're here to help! If you have questions, please let us know.



Hannah Flake
Conservation Defense Coordinator
(202) 800-2248  |  help@terrafirma.org


Adapted from: Practical Pointers for Land Trusts When Facing a Lawsuit or Other Legal Challenge of Any Size

August 15, 2021 | Tags:

Good Information Makes Good Neighbors

Issues with neighbors can be inevitable, even when everyone has good intentions. Ongoing disputes with neighbors can lead to claims of property damage, encroachment, nuisance or trespass. The inconsistent use of conservation property contrary to land trust guidelines can damage the conservation values or result in the land trust inadvertently granting an impermissible private benefit to the trespasser. The outcome of litigation is decided by state and local law, so land trusts should consult with experienced local counsel.

Terrafirma currently has 164 open claims regarding some type of neighbor difficulty, usually involving trespass or encroachments but also involving boundary disputes, access disputes and legal disputes about the enforceability of easements. Of the 164 total neighbor claims, 16 are covered claims in litigation or bound for litigation. Regardless of the nature of the dispute, there are some standard steps that can help prepare a land trust.

We’re here to help! If you have any questions, please let us know.



Hannah Flake
Conservation Defense Coordinator
(202) 800-2248  |  help@terrafirma.org


Protect your land trust from ransomware

Ransomware is a type of Cybercrime, a broad category that includes phishing, social engineering, invoice fraud, and extortion. It reportedly is the current leading cause of cyber attacks. Ransomware attacks, where someone uses malicious software to make your data inaccessible, are on the rise. Multiple land trusts have reported phishing schemes in the past year where they lost their data to a cyber-criminal such as happened to Colonial Pipeline.  

Luckily, there is a lot that you can do!

Phishing emails almost always appear to come from a legitimate source, but it is not one and there are clues if you look for them.

  • Exercise caution with links or attachments in emails you were not expecting; when in doubt, assume it is unsafe.
  • Hover over the link to make sure that it goes to a legitimate site.
  • Make sure everyone in your organization has training on identifying suspicious e-mails, texts, links or phone calls.

Have a plan and be proactive.

  • Spend as much time on how you will handle a cyber-attack as in trying to prevent one. Have a cyber emergency plan that covers who, what, where and when.
  • Consider a cyber insurance policy. Make sure you have the cyber carrier’s risk management contact info and instructions and have them accessible on paper for key staff. For more specific security measures see 6 Things Cyber Underwriters Love
  • Back up your files. This keeps you from losing all of your data and then you can restore from your physical hard drive rather than pay a ransom. Access to cloud backups usually are blocked in a ransomware attack so have a physical hard drive backup too that you disconnect from your server or computers every night.
  • Update your systems and software frequently so you immediately deploy security patches.
  • Practice good password hygiene – long phrases, used only once per account, never revealed to others. You may want to use multi-factor authentication or a password manager.
  • Follow the standard procedures on breach preparedness from the guide provided by MS-ISAC.

We’re here to help! If you have any questions, please let us know.



Hannah Flake
Conservation Defense Coordinator
(202) 800-2248  |  help@terrafirma.org


Four important things about your Terrafirma policy

As Terrafirma prepares to enter its ninth policy year, we would like to remind members of some important points. Terrafirma is a unique insurance company – a nonprofit, member-owned risk retention group, created specifically to help land trusts. Please keep the following in mind so that we can better help you.

  1. File your claim at www.terrafirma.org within the policy year in which the problem first started to avoid risking loss of coverage of the claim.
  2. The policy year is not the same as the calendar year – it is March 1 to March 1, plus a 60-day grace period that ends April 30.
  3. Filing claims does not affect your premium price! If in doubt, please file a claim or contact us at help@terrafirma.org.
  4. Entering a dispute in the Challenges section of your application is not an official claim.

We’re here to help! If you have any questions, please let us know.



Hannah Flake
Conservation Defense Coordinator
(202) 800-2248  |  help@terrafirma.org

February 18, 2021 | Tags:

Terrafirma applications are open!

December is here and it is time to start your Terrafirma application for 2021. I know how busy you are with year-end closings on top of the extra work that 2020 has brought. Leslie and I are here to make the process as smooth and easy as possible, so please email or call us with any questions.

Your land trust’s current Terrafirma policy ends March 1, 2021. Coverage continues only if you reconfirm eligibility and pay for a 2021 policy on the Terrafirma website. The confirmation period began December 1 and ends February 1, 2021.

It’s as easy as 1-2-3!

  1. Reconfirm your eligibility
  2. Add or remove parcels if necessary
  3. Click the “submit” button and pay (see details here)

Once you update, the 2021 coverage period continues from the original policy date. Everything is online; Terrafirma does not send paper invoices, notices, applications or policies. Please remember to file a Claim for any possible problems that you discovered this policy year, even if you are unsure about the issues.

Awaiting the February decision from the Accreditation Commission?

If you are awaiting your February accreditation decision for the first time, don't hit that submit button just yet! Please fill out your application and then hit "submit" once your decision is received. There is an $11/parcel accreditation discount that we don't want you to miss.

Something new this year

Much has changed in Terrafirma’s eight years of operation, and it is time to vote on a new operating agreement. The elected Members Committee for Terrafirma unanimously recommends that you vote to adopt the Third Amended And Restated Limited Liability Company Operating Agreement For Terrafirma Risk Retention Group LLC. When you fill out your online application you will see the request for your vote, along with a summary of the proposed changes and details of the proposed amendments.

Stick with it!

We know that these are uncertain times and money is always tight. Your conservation defense insurance coverage is a sensible way to reduce some of that uncertainty.

Risk Management discount still available

If you have not yet attended a webinar on Risk Management to get your 2021 Terrafirma dollar-per-property discount, there are two more. Or you can take the online Risk Management Course for the $1 discount per property.

We’re here to help! If you have any questions, please let us know.





Hannah Flake

Conservation Defense Coordinator
(202) 800-2248  |  help@terrafirma.org



P.S. With the conservation easement closing season upon us, you may want to scan the drafting pointers on The Learning Center in the Conservation Defense library collection of Practical Pointers. Remember to include a comprehensive costs and fees collection clause. See the Terrafirma suggested clause in the drafting pointers


Applications Open Soon

The holidays are almost here and we at Terrafirma wish you a happy and safe holiday season, whatever that may look like for you this year.

The Terrafirma application period is just around the corner. Starting December 1, you will be able to log in and update your application for the 2021 policy period that begins on March 1, 2021.

There are three more opportunities to sign up for a Risk Management webinar and claim your discount for the 2021 policy year. For the 2021 policy year only, due to the pandemic, this opportunity applies to any staff or board members.

December 10 | Advanced Topics in Risk Management: Safety Plans and Waivers

January 14 | Advanced Topics in Risk Management: Conflict or compromise

January 20 | Basic Risk Management: Tools & Resources

Have questions? Please let us know. You can e-mail us directly or call 802-262-6051 for Leslie, or 202-800-2248 for myself.


P.S. Congratulations to Meghann McKenna, Brendan Annett and Jane Arbuckle, the newest Members Committee representatives – we’re happy to have you on board!


Screen Your Screen Time

By now you may be familiar with "Zoom fatigue," that drain on our energy that comes with moving our lives, inside and out of work, online.

You already know the health benefits of time in nature. Here are some tips to get away from the screen when you can't be outside.

  • Have some meetings over the phone rather than on screen. Not having to hold still so you can remain in the middle of a camera frame means your body can relax.
  • Try planning projects, brainstorming, and writing to do lists on paper.
  • Work movement into your day, with small breaks for stretching, walking around, or a mini-workout.
  • See if you can carve out time during lunch and after work for screen-free entertainment, like a book or craft.

Adapted from “5 Tips to Reduce Screen Time While You’re WFH”, by Elizabeth Grace Saunders

October 19, 2020 | Tags:

Precautions to Protect Each Other

Our hearts are with those affected by the devastating fires and storms that are happening across the country. All of us in conservation can take strength from working together. We can all learn from each other too.

While no comparison to the unfathomable fires and fierce storms, a recent Maryland case demonstrates how even everyday practices can create huge liability for land trusts. The Maryland Court of Appeals affirmed a verdict for over $1.3 million in the case of Steamfitters Local Union No. 602 v. Erie Insurance Exchange, et al., when a mulch pile caught fire from a cigarette and the fire spread along a fence to two other neighbors’ properties.

The Learning Center has a variety of examples of safety manuals, resource lists, disaster plans, and other land ownership information. Be sure to ask your liability insurance carrier for their information and pointers on risk management as well.

Sharing ideas and support will help us recover and recalibrate. I hope you can attend some of these virtual events to connect with other land trusts:

Virtual Land Trust Alliance Rally 2020, Oct. 6-8 with 60 workshops and access to recordings afterward.

Virtual 2020 Risk Summit, Oct. 19 and 20, with two full days of risk training. To help ease the impact of COVID-19 related changes this year, any land trust staff member who attends a risk management program may claim the Terrafirma risk management discount for 2021.

Have questions? Please let us know. You can e-mail us directly or call 802-262-6051 for Leslie, or 202-800-2248 for myself.

September 22, 2020 | Tags:

Mark your calendars for The 2020 Risk Summit

Land trust members of Terrafirma and the Land Trust Alliance are invited to take advantage of a complimentary registration for The 2020 Risk Summit on October 19th and 20th, 2020. It is a unique, two-day virtual event for nonprofit leaders and industry professionals who support nonprofit missions. Terrafirma member organizations are eligible for the 2021 Risk Management discount of $1 per parcel if they attend the Risk Summit or take advantage of the opportunity by watching recordings of a conference session within 30 days after the Risk Summit ends.

The conference features 30+ educational sessions, interactive networking segments and live musical performances. Recordings of all conference sessions will be available to registrants for 30 days after the Risk Summit ends. Your host is the Nonprofit Risk Management Center (NRMC), the only national nonprofit dedicated to inspiring effective risk management practices across the nonprofit and NGO sectors.

Register here. Please note that you can only register if you have registered with the Center as an Affiliate and are a land trust member of the Land Trust Alliance.

Have questions? Please let us know. You can e-mail us directly or call 802-262-6051 for Leslie, or 202-800-2248 for myself.


P.S. You may have noticed that you are now receiving a message directly from the Terrafirma website for Claims that are currently on hold. For better organization and ease of use, we are now housing updates on the Terrafirma website and sending update requests from the website rather than via e-mail. We hope that this will help to avoid confusion and make information on your claims and updates easier to access for anyone at your organization who needs it. Thank you for helping us as Terrafirma grows past 1,000 claims!


Financial Management during COVID-19

Financial management can be more of a challenge than usual in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, requiring additional thought, care and planning. The Land Trust Alliance has put together a list of frequently asked questions and answers regarding use of restricted funds, when to utilize reserves, and how to maintain fiscal controls while working remotely, plus links to more resources. Check it out here.

Note that this is intended as a starting point for land trusts to be supplemented by additional financial management materials and guidance and is not legal, financial or other advice. If a land trust or individual requires legal advice or other expert assistance, they should seek the services of competent professionals.

Have questions? Please let us know. You can email us directly or call 802-262-6051 for Leslie, or 202-800-2248 for myself.

Thank you,

P.S. Do you have 10 minutes for practical tips on re-opening? Melanie Lockwood-Herman, executive director of the Nonprofit Risk Management Center, discusses strengthening relationships, organizational planning and getting your team and facilities ready when re-opening offices. See the quick course here.


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