Big gains in voluntary land conservation despite recession |

Big gains in voluntary land conservation despite recession

Marty Coleman-Hunt
Executive director of Bear Yuba Land Trust.

In Nevada County, our natural resources are the source of our wealth. This is as true today as it was 150 years ago.

We value our land here and many people have worked to conserve it through volunteerism, donations of money and land.

A new report by the Land Trust Alliance, called the National Land Trust Census, shows that land conservation by nonprofit land trusts across the United States is thriving, with more than 10 million acres conserved from 2005 to 2010.

That’s an increase of 27 percent in just five years. A total of 47 million acres – an area over twice the size of all the national parks in the contiguous United States – are now protected by land trusts.

In the same time period, the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, a major federal conservation program, added just over 500,000 acres and saw a 38 percent funding cut. The census is online at

Land trusts in California contributed to this success, reporting an increase of 34 percent in acres conserved over this period, representing 2.3 million acres. California ranks first in the nation in acres conserved. There are now 197 land trusts operating in our state.

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The recession has hit a lot of Americans hard, and from Washington we hear about smaller budgets and cut programs. An enhanced tax deduction for conservation easement donations has helped America’s land trusts work with farmers, ranchers and other modest-income landowners to sustain this remarkable pace of land conservation.

But if Congress allows this incentive to expire at the end of 2011, fewer landowners will receive tax benefits from the donation of development rights on their land, and we anticipate the positive trend in conservation to slow significantly.

Other findings of the new National Land Trust Census include:

– The preservation of family farms and ranchlands is now a priority for 61 percent of trusts, up from 21 percent that listed farmland as the top priority in 2005.

– Urban parks, gardens or open spaces are now a priority for 27 percent of trusts, a threefold increase in five years.

– The number of active land trust volunteers increased by 70 percent since 2005.

– From 2005 to 2010, state and local land trusts almost tripled the amount of funding they have dedicated to monitoring, stewardship and legal defense. They also almost tripled their operating endowments.

Thirteen local land trusts based in the Sierra Nevada and California Cascades, together with four state and national partners have been actively and successfully protecting wildlife habitat, agricultural lands, working timber forests, historic sites, recreational areas, watersheds, rivers and streams, and iconic landscapes.

Occupying only a third of California’s landmass, the Sierra Cascade region of the state provides over 65 percent of the state’s clean drinking water.

Half of California’s plant and animal species are found in the Sierra Cascade region, and more than 50 million visitors come each year to enjoy the spectacular scenery and abundant recreational opportunities found here.

Here, in our community, Bear Yuba Land Trust (formerly Nevada County Land Trust) has been working with the Stewardship Council to facilitate the permanent protection of more than 10,000 acres of PG&E-owned land in the Bear River and Yuba River watersheds of Nevada and Yuba Counties.

In a first step, the Stewardship Council recommended that BYLT hold a conservation easement permanently protecting 2,029 of high elevation land around four lakes: Fordyce, Meadow, White Rock and Sterling Lakes.

This area provides outdoor recreation and important wildlife habitat in the upper elevations of the Sierra Nevada where the reservoirs and surrounding lands form the headwaters of the Drum-Spaulding Canal that is utilized by Nevada and Placer Counties as both a domestic and agricultural water resource.

In addition, just this week the Stewardship Council recommended BYLT to hold conservation easements over 60 acres along The Narrows of the Yuba River, just below Englebright Dam in Nevada and Yuba Counties.

Private landowners continue to donate land and trail easements as well. Recently, Alta Brewer generously donated 40 beautiful oak-studded acres in Alta Sierra to BYLT as open space for wildlife habitat, public recreation and permanent protection.

I invite anyone interested in helping with these efforts to please contact us. We can only do this with local support, including annual memberships and contributions, volunteerism and the offering of property by willing landowners who want to protect their lands forever.

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