Mary Coleman-Hunt has been the executive director of the Bear Yuba Land Trust for eight years and served on the board for two years before that. She had a long-term career in business before moving to the foothills for a better quality of life.

“What better opportunity exists to fulfill that dream than to go to work for a land trust,” says Coleman-Hunt.

She believes what she brings to her role as an accreditation commissioner is the voice of someone who works for a medium sized land trust with a business background.

“The commission has done a good job populating the commission board with a real diversity of skills and background so the land trust community is well represented both in technical background and geographical location,” says Coleman-Hunt.

She calls the work “very rigorous – there’s a lot of material to review.”

Like other commissioners, she’s a volunteer, donating about 8-12 hours per month reviewing applications, attending meetings and conference calls.

Because they believe in the process, her land trust is willing to allow her to have the time to spend doing the work.

Coleman-Hunt has no set territory—she reviews land trusts of any size or location—but would recuse herself from reviewing any land trust in California because of the proximity and the possibility of conflict.

She describes the accreditation process as very thorough for both the applicants and the commissioners.

“In order to make sure the review process is very consistent, the commissioners work with a manual that includes every single situation that has arisen in the review process –that way commissioners can review the precedents. This enables consistency not only from commissioner to commissioner, but from year to year.”

Commissioners discuss the applications with accreditation staff to make sure every standard and practice is reviewed consistently. Twice a year the commissioners present to the full commission to discuss and review their findings on land trusts they’ve reviewed also do follow up with land trust if any items are unclear or outstanding.

“It’s meant to be legally very thorough.”

Organization is key for both commissioners and accreditation staff.

“You need to be very organized in order to stay consistent with reviewing standards and practices.”

Marty decided to participate as a commissioner after going through the process for her land trust. The application process showed her how beneficial it can be—“the effect it can have in upgrading the work product that we all do across the country.”

“I really believed in the process. I saw the important impact the work can have in making sure our agreements are durable and legally defensible.”

Her advice to land trusts considering applying for accreditation? Take it slow.

“Give yourself the time to really answer the questions that will be asked and to ensure that the way you implement the standards and practices is what is actually required by the Standards and Practices.”

“Involve as many people in the process as you can—board and staff—it helps spread the knowledge base across the organization.

Coleman-Hunt offers a final note about the renewal process.

“It’s assumed that the land trust will continue to implement the processes developed during the accreditation process throughout the five-year cycle. Make sure you are continuing to implement them, for example, reviewing conservation easements annually. Then you will be in good shape for renewal,” she says. “Some organizations may be surprised to find themselves in catch-up mode if they haven’t.”

By Dawn Van Dyke
Photo courtesy Marty Coleman-Hunt