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Better Place Forests Land Conservation

How memorial trees help protect and restore forests across America.

What is land conservation?

Land conservation is the long-term management and protection of land such as open spaces, forestland, or farmland. It can also entail returning land to its natural state. There are a number of ways to conserve land and prevent certain kinds of development from taking place, including buying land for conservation, conservation easements, and other tools.

What is the importance of land conservation?

Around 25% of global carbon emissions are captured by land such as forests and grasslands. Conserving forests helps combat climate change, prevents deforestation, supports wildlife habitats and biodiversity, and creates spaces for recreation and relaxation.

What are the different types of land conservation?

Some of the most common land conservation techniques include preservation, restoration, remediation, and mitigation. Our Forest and Conservation team is made up of natural resource management professionals, including arborists, foresters, and biologists. Across the team and leadership, there is experience working with land trusts, soil scientists, and in ecological and biological research settings. Better Place Forests’ natural resource management mission is to conserve and support healthy, resilient, and biodiverse ecosystems through active stewardship and monitoring.

Managing for biodiversity and resilience

For each of our forests, we work with local foresters on property-specific forest management plans. These plans outline how to protect and increase biodiversity and resilience. For example, prescriptive thinning and pruning can reduce competition for resources among trees and other plants in a forest. Invasive species treatment and removal can enable native species to thrive. Habitat stewardship and enhancement can improve the conditions for both flora and fauna. And, long-term monitoring makes it possible to measure progress or areas that require more attention. We have forest management plans for each of our locations.

Mitigating wildfire risk

In most of our forests, active vegetation management is used to mitigate wildfire risk. Examples of this management include forest thinning, limbing trees, slash removal, and controlled burning. These forms of management reduce the risk of catastrophic fire and are beneficial for the forest ecosystem.

Controlled burns utilize low-intensity ground fire on the forest floor. This is a natural method of vegetation management that reduces dense vegetation and ground “fuel.” Exclusion of fire and lack of management in many areas has led to increases in catastrophic wildfires.

How memorial tree purchases help us protect and restore forests

Better Place Forests is creating America’s first conservation memorial forests — places where cremated remains can be spread at the base of a private memorial tree, all while the forest as a whole is being protected from development and other uses.

We are often asked, “What does it mean for land to be protected?” For Better Place Forests, it means taking several steps — a years-long process that we are committed to pursuing.

Step 1: Identify land with high conservation value

When selecting our forests, we engage with local conservation organizations to identify land with high conservation value. That means our forests are often contiguous, undeveloped stretches of land that are in a natural, scenic, historical, agricultural, forested, or open-space condition and provide a habitat for a wide variety of wildlife. They may also face the threat of development or loss of that habitat.

Step 2: Purchase to protect

Once we have found a forest that meets our standards, we purchase it. Purchasing the land is the most direct method for us to secure the highest levels of land protection and manage the forest.

Step 3: Manage the forest for health and safety

We then develop management plans for each forest that provide for the preservation, protection, and enhancement of the natural habitat with the goal of fostering the growth and maintenance of a healthy, long-lasting forest ecosystem. We adopt localized best practices that help mitigate the potential for wildfires, conserve sensitive habitats, and enable native species to flourish.

Step 4: Obtain local permits

Due to the unique use of our land, we engage local communities and obtain land use permits from local jurisdictions, typically county governments. These permits authorize Better Place Forests to operate our conservation memorial forests on the particular property indefinitely.

Step 5: Grant irrevocable licenses

We grant each customer an irrevocable license to access their memorial tree and the forest, and we record those with local governments. This means that each customer enjoys a perpetual right from Better Place to enjoy recreation in the forest and spread ashes at their tree. This is our solemn commitment to families who partner with us.

Step 6: Record irrevocable licenses

To provide an additional level of protection for those irrevocable rights of access, we will record a memorandum with the local government providing that our customers enjoy irrevocable rights to the forest. We have no intention to sell our forests, but we take this step to provide additional assurance to our customers.

Step 7: Establish Stewardship Trusts

A Stewardship Trust funds the perpetual management of each forest. A percentage of each tree purchased in a forest is directed towards this trust.

Step 8: Establish conservation easements

Over time, we intend to place conservation easements on each of our forests that permanently prevent the development of the land. When families make their end-of-life plans with Better Place Forests, they’re contributing to our continued ability to secure these easements and protect more forests across America.

Commonly asked questions

Is this the same as a national forest?

No, our forests are privately owned by Better Place Forests, while national forests are publicly owned. Some of our forests border national forests or state parks.

Where does Better Place Forests operate today?

We currently operate forests in California, Arizona, Minnesota, Connecticut, Illinois, and Massachusetts.

Where can cremated remains be spread within the forest?

Cremated remains are spread at designated memorial trees within each forest property. Each memorial tree is evaluated for its health and longevity by an arborist prior to being designated as a memorial tree. The sections of the forest that include memorial trees are evaluated for soil health and water feature proximity. By limiting the number and location of memorial trees, Better Place Forests can control the locations and quantity of cremated remains being spread throughout the forest.

Cremated remains are never placed within identified wetlands or watercourses, and there are spreading buffers around certain water features in our forests. To ensure these protocols and other forest management best practices are followed, we develop Conservation Area Rules and Regulations tailored to each forest.

How does Better Place Forests integrate cremated remains into the forest?

We’ve worked with local soil scientists, biologists, and foresters to provide their professional assessment of our spreading practices and their guidance to ensure soil, water, and overall forest health is maintained on the property.

When spreading cremated remains during a memorial ceremony, we mix local soil with those remains at a 3:1 ratio to promote decomposition and increase the spatial distribution of the remains, as recommended by consulting soil scientists. This mixture is spread at the base of each memorial tree. A small USGS-style memorial marker with a custom inscription is placed there, offering a natural-looking introduction to the forest floor.

Do you accept remains that have undergone a disposition method different from cremation?

We only work with cremated remains. However, in some of our forests, we are able to accept hydrolyzed remains, otherwise known as water cremation or aquamation.

These are our locations accepting hydrolyzed remains:

In California, we’ve partnered with the first aquamation facility in the state, White Rose Aqua Cremation. We hope to develop more partnerships like this, and we’re advocates for more choice in end-of-life as states nationwide begin allowing new methods of disposition.

How do I know a Better Place Forest location won't be bought and turned into a development? And, what about development around the property?

We will not sell land for development. Our mission is to inspire everyone to leave a meaningful legacy for the planet and the people they love. Conservation of land is at the heart of that mission.

We cannot guarantee what will occur outside our forests, but we can tell you that we choose forests in part based on their location within a region and a community because that space is conducive to a peaceful in-forest experience.

We have developed a multi-step approach to protecting our forests and customers’ rights. In particular, locally recorded licenses, our Stewardship Trust, and conservation easements are intended to carry into any future ownership of our forests — the goal being that no matter what happens to Better Place Forests, a forest that has secured these levels of protection would have preserved customer rights, funding, and a prohibition on development, respectively.

How are your forests permitted, and what happens when those permits expire? What exactly does a permit such as this entail?

We work closely with local jurisdictions to obtain explicit authorization to conduct our operations. We obtain use permits to operate conservation memorial forests, which allow us to operate on a particular property indefinitely.

What progress has been made towards conservation easements?

Early on in the acquisition process for a Better Place Forests location, we take multiple steps towards protecting the land, including seeking a partner to hold a conservation easement on the property.

We engage local land trusts to learn about local conservation efforts and build relationships that may lead to a land trust holding a conservation easement on the property. After we acquire a property, we continue to build a relationship with our local conservation partner, and eventually BPF will donate an easement and stewardship endowment to that partner. To date, Better Place Forests has built relationships with many land trusts across America, and multiple organizations have expressed an openness to holding conservation easements on our properties. While no conservation easements are yet held on our forests, we continue to strengthen those partnerships with a goal of placing conservation easements on all forests gradually and over time.

How will you be able to pay for the care and maintenance of the property in the future?

Better Place Forests starts by funding the care and maintenance of our forests ourselves. In addition, we have set up a Stewardship Trust to fund long-term care and maintenance of all of our forests.

Are you licensed as a cemetery? Are your forests protected in the same way as cemeteries?

Better Place Forests locations are not cemeteries, so they are not licensed as such. Our intention is to put into place structures that exceed the protections provided by cemeteries. Not only do we provide interests in land and set up a trust for long-term maintenance, we go further by recording customer rights with local governments, and work towards granting conservation easements.

Are you going public, and what happens if ownership changes?

Better Place Forests is focused on conserving land and providing families a beautiful end-of-life option, not on going public. Moreover, our multi-step process is designed to preserve customer rights no matter who may own the forests in the future.

Are you not for profit or for profit? Do you have a Board of Directors?

BPF is for profit. Our business model enables us to offer an innovative end-of-life option, while providing funding to conserve land across America. Better Place Forests is governed by a Board of Directors.

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