Tom's Blog

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Land Trusts

Ron Seely's nice article in today's Wisconsin State Journal (Page 1; Sunday, October 2, 2010) provides a great overview of Wisconsin land trusts and their importance for conservation in the state. Since Kathie and I have used a land trust to protect Pleasant Valley Conservancy, I thought it might be a good time to say a few words about land trusts.

Land trusts have existed for many years (the Nature Conservancy was a pioneer), but in recent years their number has markedly increased. According to the Land Trust Alliance (the national organization that supports the land trust movement), there are 1700 land trusts in the United States, which have permanently conserved over 37,000,000 acres of land. According to Gathering Waters, the organization that supports Wisconsin land trusts, there are more than 50 land trusts in the state protecting over 200,000 acres.

Some land trusts operate statewide, such as the Nature Conservancy and Ice Age Trail Alliance, others are regional, such as the Natural Heritage Land Trust, the Prairie Enthusiasts, and the Mississippi Valley Land Conservancy, and others are very localized, such as Pheasant Branch Conservancy (Middleton) and the Waukesha Land Conservancy. Madison Audubon Society, another land trust that Kathie and I volunteer for extensively, is somewhat of a hybrid, since it is local, but has over 3,000 acres under protection in Columbia and Jefferson Counties.

Last Thursday evening, at Monona Terrace Convention Center, Gathering Waters held its annual banquet and awards ceremony. The Natural Heritage Land Trust was given the well-deserved Land Trust of the Year Award. This organization, spearheaded by a dedicated board (Carla Wright, President) and a skilled executive director (Jim Welsh), has been playing a major role in land protection in south-central Wisconsin. Among its triumphs has been the recent purchase of the Koltes property in the Town of Westport. Negotiations to purchase this critical site have been in the works for a number of years, and have finally been completed. The Koltes land has several fine small prairie remnants, but most importantly provides protection and access for Westport Drumlin, part of the Empire Prairie State Natural Area. Westport Drumlin is an outstanding prairie remnant which, among other things, harbors a fine population of the Federally-endangered prairie bush clover (Lespedeza leptostachya).

Another major land trust in our area (but with statewide and regional significance) is the Prairie Enthusiasts (TPE), and this is the land trust that holds the conservation easement for Pleasant Valley Conservancy (PVC). Kathie and I have worked with TPE for years (since we started restoration work, in fact), and TPE (under Rich Henderson) did the first few extensive prescribed burns on our property.

In 2006 we made two donations to TPE. The first was an outright donation of 37 acres of PVC land that had been owned by our Savanna Oak Foundation. The second was a permanent conservation easement for the rest of PVC, about 103 acres. We also donated $$ to a fund that TPE has set up to use for long-term monitoring of the easement.

Because a conservation easement is permanent, and one never knows what might happen in the future, it is essential that the land trust monitor the property at reasonable intervals to ensure that the terms of the easement have been maintained. This involves insuring that property boundaries have not been violated, and that no improper uses are being carried out. Lives are short, but land goes on forever!

I would encourage those interested in conservation to learn more about the land trust movement in Wisconsin and the United States.


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