updated 11/30/2006 8:13:04 PM ET 2006-12-01T01:13:04

Private U.S. landowners have set aside land comparable in acreage to Georgia for conservation purposes.

A new tally of U.S. private land conservation efforts finds a boom in the number of smaller, local land trusts, particularly in the West, seeking to compensate for the 2 million acres of farms, forests and open spaces developed nationally each year.

Nature areas, wildlife habitat, open spaces, waterways, wetlands and other lands conserved through private means rose to 37 million acres — roughly the size of Georgia — from the 24 million acres conserved as of 2000, the Land Trust Alliance said Thursday.

The nonprofit charitable group attributed the trend to the rising popularity of private land trusts, towns wanting to preserve their quality of life, state and local bond initiatives and people concerned about sprawl and unplanned development.

States with the highest total acres conserved are California, Maine, Colorado, Montana, Virginia, New York, Vermont, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, the group said.

The 54 percent increase over five years is led by the 11.9 million acres conserved by state and local land trusts. Other growth has come through large national groups, such as The Nature Conservancy, Ducks Unlimited, The Conservation and The Trust for Public Land.

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