The Rural Lands Stewardship Program

a market-driven program 
that protects natural resources, 
contains sprawl and 
promotes innovative development 

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other related links:
Fact Sheets & Information Resources

Report of the Governor's Growth Management Study Commission 2000-2001


NEW projects are starting in Florida. Interest is being shown for the Rural Lands Stewardship Program in local communities in California, North Carolina and several other statesFor details on these projects, click here.

information on the Rural Lands Stewardship Program is available for download, including a quick overview, fact sheets and a letter from a "public interest" group lauding the RLSP.  

Some of this information is available below; the balance can be found on the RLSP information resources page


The Florida Legislature approved a bill in 2004 that makes the Rural Lands Stewardship Program a "specifically encouraged designation" on future land use maps for all counties in Florida.  

The bill also includes several additional provisions to help counties carry out and fund rural lands stewardship planning efforts.  

For a summary of highlights, click here.  For the full text relating to the Rural Lands Stewardship Program, click here.

All documents are in PDF format, and can be opened and read using the free Adobe Acrobat Reader.


Here's a two-page handout that can print front and back. The first page provides a brief explanation of the Rural Lands Stewardship Program (RLSP).  The second page provides an example of how it works. click here


one-page fact sheet:  click here


Recommended: an article written by Chris Demers, in the Fall 2003 issue of The Florida Forest Steward - A Quarterly Newsletter for Florida Landowners and Resource Professionals, provides an excellent description of the program.  To view the article (also in PDF format), click here.

Another article, "Innovative Rural Land Planning Emerges in Southwest Florida" appeared in the March 2004 issue of Florida Planning, published by the Florida Chapter of the American Planning Association.  The article is by Al Reynolds and Anita Jenkins of WilsonMiller, two of the architects of the successful case study, the Collier County Rural Lands Stewardship Area. To view the article, click here.


Some people mistakenly compare the Rural Lands Stewardship Program to Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) programs when they are first introduced to the concept.  This is incorrect.

The RLSP includes a provision for transferring economic values from one location to another, but otherwise it is completely different from any previously proposed or existing TDR program.  To view a 2-page illustration showing the differences, please click This is NOT a TDR Program.


Accommodate all the population growth that is projected for a 200,000-acre area near your community over the next 25 years, BUT: 

  • Reduce the development footprint to just 10% of the land that will be used by current land use patterns;
  • create “villages” and “towns” surrounded by extensive areas of open space to maintain rural character;
  • permanently protect 90,000 acres of environmentally sensitive lands with conservation easements; and
  • remove development rights from another 85,000 acres of land that will remain in agriculture and open space?

This can be accomplished through traditional "land protection" tools -- by purchasing fee-simple and less-than-fee title over 175,000 acres of land.

There's just one problem:  This would require a public investment of anywhere from $280 to $800 million, depending on the purchase price of the land.  Protecting 175,000 acres at $1,600 an acre (a possibility in 2000 in the Collier County case study area) would have cost $280 million.  But the average cost of public purchases (as shown by recent purchases posted on the Trust for Public Lands website) is now close to $5,000 an acre. 

That's not the only cost of public purchases.  These purchases also remove land from property tax roles, take land out of economic production (or only allow low-impact economic activities), and incur an ongoing public liability for operation and management that generally run $10 or $15 per acre per year, if proper management is being carried out(which, at up to $2.63 million per year for a 175,000-acre area, can double the initial cost of public protection within 10 years.).

But there is an alternative that costs much less.  In fact, it can accomplish the same result -- and perhaps a little bit more -- for just $500,000.

HERE'S HOW THIS HAS BEEN DONE IN COLLIER, COUNTY, FLORIDA ... the fastest growing metropolitan area in the U.S. 1980-90 and 2nd fastest growing metropolitan area (after Las Vegas) 1990-2000:

THE RURAL LANDS STEWARDSHIP PROGRAM (Section 163.3177(11)(d), Florida Statutes) takes a new approach to rural land use issues to create a comprehensive growth management policy for rural areas. This planning tool offers the following SIMULTANEOUS benefits:
  • Incentive based
  • Controls sprawl
  • Separates urban and rural land uses
  • Maintains asset value of rural lands
  • Preserves open space for agriculture and natural environment
  • Accommodates future development in well planned clustered patterns 
  • Allows for flexibility in location of future development
  • Allows ALL landowners to economically benefit from development
  • Allows landowners to choose options that offer FUTURE APPRECIATION … even when protecting natural resources
  • Greatly reduces, or eliminates, environmental impacts of new human settlements.
This new "PRIVATE LAND STEWARDSHIP" tool protects 5-10 acres of stewardship areas for every acre developed.

An $800,000 investment that was made to establish this program in Collier County.  This investment will result in the protection of 350 times more environmentally sensitive lands, water features, agriculture and open space than would have been protected with the same investment using traditional land protection tools. That’s a ratio of 350:1 for every public dollar spent.

Put another way:  it would have required a public investment of $280 million to achieve the same result through fee- and less-than-fee purchases (assuming 2000 prices for these lands in Collier County). With the Rural Lands Stewardship Program, no public money is used to purchase easements.  All protection is carried out by the market economy.

Moreover ...

The development patterns created by the Rural Lands Stewardship Program are fiscally positive -- they generate more in revenues than they cost in expenses to provide necessary public services (fire, police, libraries, parks, schools, etc.).  Hence, property taxes are likely to remain low.

Here's how the economics work (as projected by Fishkind & Associates of Orlando, Florida,  

The "baseline" (red) indicates the fiscal impact of current development patterns in Collier County, as applied to the study area.  Note that this pattern of development would result in an annual DEFICIT of $1,200,000 by 2024.  

In contrast, the Rural Lands Stewardship Program (blue) accommodates the same population, but does so in a manner that generates an annual SURPLUS of almost $350,000.

The difference is $1.5 million per year. 

illustration courtesy of WilsonMiller, Inc.

That's not all ...

all of the environmental impacts of new human settlements can be greatly limited, or even eliminated.  That's because values can be assigned, and ongoing revenues can be generated to pay for:

  • Creating a permanent greenbelt around each new settlement made up of private lands and enterprises,
  • Using these private agricultural and open lands as "processing centers," thus generating new streams of revenue to keep these operations economically viable,
  • Using agricultural and other rural lands to REPLACE or supplement other types of infrastructure (water treatment and waste treatment plants, landfills, incinerators, power generating plants, etc.),
  • Making agricultural lands and open space an INTEGRAL part of each community's infrastructure, thus
  • Integrating agriculture into community planning, and 
  • Using agriculture for a multitude of "green" uses, including:
  • Accepting waste products, discards and runoff from human settlements (for a fee),
  • Processing wastes, discards and runoff to eliminate environmental impacts (for a fee),
  • Generating power, purifying water, removing nutrients (for a fee), and
  • Using new wastes, discards and runoff to create new "green" products for sale.

For more details on this approach, see Integrating Agriculture Into the Landscape, a program based on concepts developed by Rural Lands Stewardship Council member Peter Spyke. This program is now being implemented  through a strategic partnership between Stewardship America and CH2M HILL, Inc.


The following tools are used in carrying out the Rural Lands Stewardship Program:

  •       Data Gathering

  •       Alternative Scenario Planning & Visualization

  •       Consensus-Building & Decision Making

  •       Public & Environmental Resource Identification, Mapping and Economic Valuation

  •       Creating Market Economy Drivers & Incentives

  •       Establishing Functional Connections between Different Land Uses & Landscape  Features

  •       Integrating Rural Areas, Agricultural Areas and Natural Areas into Community Economics & Planning.  This builds on the functional land connections cited above, but focuses on:

Integrating Agriculture into Rural Planning —by identifying new roles and opportunities for agricultural operations adjacent to areas where new settlements are going to be built, and integrates these agriculture into community planning and design to greatly reduce the impacts of further development

  •       Fiscal Impact Analysis – to ensure each community will generate sufficient short-term and long-term revenues to pay for all necessary public services.  Two tools are available:

Community Revenue & Expense Studies—provide answers as to which land uses pay their way and which do not and whether planning for a diverse mix of land uses makes good fiscal and economic sense. 

True Cost Accounting—helps policy makers see the long-term fiscal impacts of current land uses, better understand the impacts of proposed additions and changes, and ask themselves what if different approaches were used? Would they generate new revenues, offset deficits, create a better balance and mix of uses, and result in a more livable community?

  •       Economic Development  – to attract new revenue-generating enterprises and opportunities, using federal grants and programs, new technologies, opportunities for credit trading and conservation stewardship, and entrepreneurial approaches.  

  •       Implementation (includes development of Goals, Objectives and Policies; preparation of Comprehensive Plan Amendments; development of Land Development Regulations; and site planning, design & construction for housing, commercial, professional, industrial and community facilities and infrastructure)

  •      Regionwide Project Integration and Coordination  

For more information, click "contact us," or follow the links below:  

Fact Sheets & Information Resources

Report of the Governor's Growth Management Study Commission 2000-2001

For current information on the Ave Maria project, the Collier County
Rural Lands Stewardship Area Overlay and other projects,
visit the website for WilsonMiller, the planning/design firm
that created the documentation to put concepts for the
Rural Lands Stewardship Program in place:


For information on Stewardship America's other programs, visit the following links:

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