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The Trustees of Reservations

Friday, April 27, 2012

Cooperative Conservation Assist Projects are the fastest-growing Method of Conservation nationwide!

The Trustees of Reservations, America's oldest statewide land trust, is best known for our 106 Reservations on 26,000 acres across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, "for public use and enjoyment" as our mission statement has always said.  You might already know, though, that this blog focuses on our lesser known side: land conservation through Conservation Restrictions (CRs) - an area in which we recently celebrated our 20,000th acre protected.  While these typically privately-protected properties are not often open "for public use and enjoyment," the purpose of CRs revolve around public benefit, through protection of water supply, wildlife habitat, land for agriculture, and scenic views, among other conservation values. 

I had thought that CRs are still the fastest-growing land protection method by land trusts in the nation.  However, upon checking the 2010 National Land Trust Census results, I found that I was in fact wrong, and this is actually NOT the case by percentage increase in acres protected between the 2005 and 2010 Censuses!  Indeed, land protected by CRs (Conservation Easements everywhere else in the U.S.) did show the biggest numerical increase in acres conserved - 2.8 million new acres nationwide, from 6 million in 2005 to 8.8 million total nationwide acres in 2010, an impressive increase of 47%.  Land owned outright by land trusts increased by 40%, from 1.5 million to 2.1 million total acres.  What then was the fastest-growing category by percentage change, keeping pace with CEs and then some?

The category in question grew by a whopping 51%, from about 3.4 million to 5.1 million total acres, and the name of the Land Trust Census category for it is a mouthful: "Acres acquired and reconveyed and acres conserved by other means by state and local land trusts."  In plain English, one might boil this down to "Land Conservation partnerships," or "assists," where land is protected as a result of the actions of a land trust, but the land trust doesn't necessarily end up owning the land, or even holding a resultant conservation easement.  This is a testament to partnerships - land trusts working together with other land trusts or partnering with cities, towns, or the state, where a land protection organization cooperating on a project does not necessarily end up with the resulting interest in the subject land.  

The Trustees of Reservations recently calculated our last ten years of conservation acreage by type of transaction.  And the results pretty much match the national trends - in fact we found that cooperative assist projects in which TTOR participated accounted for a very large portion of the total land which we have conserved or helped to put in to conservation! 

Happy Cattle at Oscar Palmer Farm!
Where have we helped to accomplish this work in the last decade?  In a wide variety of projects in over 30 cities and towns statewide!  How about a short sampler of notables?  Westport comes to mind, where we partnered with the town, the community, and the Westport Land Conservation Trust from 2008 to 2011 to protect the historic Oscar Palmer Farm - 29 acres threatened by development - and sell to a conservation buyer.  Just one of the numerous successful Westport projects (totalling 2,000+ acres!) in which we have played a part!

In the bustling Pioneer Valley hub of Northampton, a partnership in 2005-2006 with the city and Mass Audubon resulted in protection of 120 acres on Turkey Hill Road, near the western boundary of the town, abutting Westhampton, and later added to the Mineral Hills Conservation Area.  The land was under imminent threat of development by a private owner.  The Trustees and Mass Audubon offered temporary loan and ownership assistance to the city, while they applied for a state grant, with which proceeds the property was eventually protected! 

Crucial Wetlands in the Fitchburg Water Supply lands, now under conservation.
In the re-emerging North Central MA city of Fitchburg, a partnership between the city,  North County Land Trust, The Trustees, the Nashua River Watershed Association, the MA Department of Fish and Game, and DEP, resulted in a whopping 1,900 acres of city land under CR with the Department of Fish and Game, protecting a large portion of the city's drinking water supply lands, and it is open for public recreation too!  Also in Fitchburg, we partnered with the city, North County Land Trust, and many other organizations to acquire the land and bring the state's first Gateway Park to fruition!  It opened in September 2011, owned by the city, with a CR held by TTOR and North County Land Trust.  Assist projects don't always imply that we are hands-off in future property stewardship, and The Trustees are partnering with community organizations and residents to run the community garden at the Fitchburg Gateway Park next year!

Copicut Woods Reservation is the portion of the SE BioReserve directly owned by The Trustees.
A final example comes in Fall River, where we are a partner in the Southeastern Massachusetts Bioreserve, in which we own the 516-acre Copicut Woods Reservation and hold a 50-acre deed restriction on a crucial border parcel, and have worked actively with the city and state for well over a decade to assist in the further protection and management of these 13,600 pristine and ecologically amazing acres which span multiple towns.  Creation of the Bioreserve even included a 300-acre land grant from the state on which the city is building the Fall River Executive Park, to spur economic development expected to bring thousands of jobs to Southeastern MA!! 

Land conservation in these ever-challenging times works extremely well with innovative private-public partnerships.  In a diverse array of cities and towns across Massachusetts, as big as Boston and Fall River, as small as Hadley and New Braintree, and in suburbs like Holliston and Seekonk, we have successfully partnered with towns, other land trusts, and state agencies to leverage an exciting portfolio of conservation projects!  This is thanks to our partners and to our dedicated land protection staff!  A local conservation project may not always have The Trustees' logo on it, nor should it always, but we may well have worked behind the scenes on a successful project near you!

 Posted by Andrew Bentley - CR Stewardship Assistant.

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