Posts Tagged ‘land trusts’

Land trust’s demise marks its success

July 28, 2010

Monach butterflies at Ellwood Mesa - Photo: Rich Reid

According to a story last week in the Santa Barbara Independent the more than 1,600 local land trusts in this country will soon be reduced by one with the wholly expected demise of the Goleta Valley Land Trust.  Located just north of Santa Barbara, Goleta is the home of the University of California at Santa Barbara and the southern entrance to a particularly wild, scenic, and undeveloped stretch of landscape known as the Gaviota Coast.

Local and regional land trusts are the heart and soul of community conservation. Typically, they raise funds and may purchase or accept donations of land or easements. One of their ongoing responsibilities is to monitor easements, legal agreements that prevent development or stipulate land use, being sure that subsequent landowners honor them over time.

So, in general, it is very bad news when a local land trust goes out of business. But the Goleta Valley Land Trust was not your typical land trust. According to the Independent‘s story, the trust was set up specifically to disburse funds generated by a public interest lawsuit against a local resort.

The money was the result of a hard-won 1997 settlement between the Bacara and the Citizens for Goleta Valley, which sued the resort for not including a parking lot and access to Haskell’s Beach. The court-ordered mediation talks were notoriously tense, with one attorney literally grabbing another by the lapels at one point, but the citizens eventually won out, getting the parking lot, public access, and cash.

Armed with $5.5 million the land trust set out to support land conservation in its community. Among it many grants, the trust gave funds to support two TPL projects, including a million dollars toward the successful $20.4 million of protection of Ellwood Mesa, home of the seasonal butterfly community pictured above.

Now the money is almost gone, and soon the land trust will be as well.

The trust’s happy ending . . . was always in the plans, said co-founder Harriet Phillips, who both spearheaded the Bacara suit and then managed the funds with the trust’s board. “We had no fundraisers,” she explained. “We didn’t want to compete with anyone. We did not want to build a bureaucracy. We just wanted to do the best to save whatever land we could save.”

The paper speculates that whatever funds remain after the land trust dissolves could go to the Santa Barbara County Land Trust, a traditional land trust working in the area.

Anthropologist Margaret Mead’s dictum on the importance of an engaged citizenry is so familiar these days that it is losing a little of its punch. But in this instance, I’m going to risk floating it once more: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

More information on local land trusts can be found on the website of the Land Trust Alliance, a land trust umbrella organization that TPL helped to start in the 1980s.

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LandMark: Crested Butte land conservation program

April 9, 2010

I was tickled to read in The Crested Butte News of yet another successful conservation effort to protect the lovely meadows surrounding that Colorado town.  In 1996, I drove to Crested Butte to write a story on the town’s conservation efforts for Land&People magazine.  The obviously aging photo above was taken on the trip–showing land protected by the Crested Butte Land Trust along the Slate River south of town.   Here is a snippet from that story:

From the picturesque ski village of Crested Butte, down the East and Gunnison River valleys toward the county seat of Gunnison, fields that once grew hay and cows now grow houses and condos, and “For Sale” signs sprout like spring iris in the verdant meadows.

Fourteen years later, the effort continues to protect one of the prettiest moutain valleys it has been my pleasure to visit–and many of the same players are involved.  These include TPL, which negotated the latest transaction and helped to assemble the funding; the Crested Butte Land Trust, which will hold an easement on the land; the Town of Crested Butte, which raises conservation funds through a real estate transfer tax; and Great Outdoors Colorado, a state conservation funding program that also contributed to the project. 

And I was pleased to note that town planner John  Hess, whom I interviewed in 1996, is still in his office in city hall.  From The Crested Butte News:

“This is an absolutely great piece of property,” said Hess. “It connects to a lot of other open space up Slate River. The visibility from town looking north is fantastic. I’ve been up in those aspens and seen elk migrating through there. It is a great piece of property.”

Its hard to imagine a more active conservation program for a town of its size.  The effort got started in 1991, when the town passed its conservation funding measure and the land trust was founded with TPL’s help.  By the time I visited in 1996, the town and the land trust together had protected 642 acres.  Today, the Crested Butte Land Trust boasts of more than 5,000 acres protected. 

Congratualtions to Crested Butte on this latest conservation victory.  I hope to get back to town soon to see the results of their labor.

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