November 25, 2011

State part of land success story

A national census finds 10 million acres have been preserved since 2005, with Maine's 99 trusts helping.

By MECHELE COOPER Kennebec Journal

All 99 Maine land trusts took part in a nationwide census that found 10 million new acres of land have been conserved since 2005, despite a down economy.

LAND TRUST CENSUS RESULTS

OTHER FINDINGS of the 2010 Land Trust Alliance Census include:

There are 19 percent more paid employees and contractors at land trusts than there were in 2005.

Operating budgets for land trusts are up 36 percent since 2005. State and local trusts nearly tripled their operating endowments in five years, ensuring that land trust-protected land stays preserved.

The preservation of family farms and ranch lands 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 three-fold increase over respondents in 2005.

The Northeast has conserved the most acres – 5.2 million.

The Land Trust Alliance Census is online at www.lta.org/census.

The 2010 Land Trust Alliance Census said endowments to ensure that land remains protected at local and state levels more than doubled, and operating endowments -- an indicator of the staying power of these organizations -- almost tripled.

By comparison, over the same time period the federally funded Land and Water Conservation Fund saw a 38 percent funding cut.

Theresa Kerchner, executive director of the Kennebec Land Trust, said her organization has been able to protect 52 properties totaling 4,000 acres in 21 communities.

"The census is a good reflection of land trust work," Kerchner said. "It's still quite successful even with the downturn of the economy. In Maine, our economy is based on natural resources and tourism, which is why we focus on sustainable forestry and farming. It's key to our economy and quality of life. Our lands and waters and wildlife are our natural assets, and I think concentration on those assets is critical to the future of Maine."

She said the Kennebec Land Trust is made up of 90 members, 60 of whom are considered land stewards who monitor the trust's properties and offer education to the public.

"They're sort of the local face of conservation in our communities," she said.

The 2010 National Land Trust Census, released by the Land Trust Alliance, shows voluntarily protected land increased 27 percent between 2005 and 2010.

Rand Wentworth, president of the Land Trust Alliance, said people value their land and are conserving it at the local level.

But a greater percentage of new acreage comes through the work of local and state land trusts, Wentworth said. He said 47 million acres are now protected in the United States by land trusts.

"While government is shrinking, local land trusts are saving more land than is lost to development," Wentworth said. "Communities nationwide value clean water, local food and places to play, and they are investing in those places close to home."

Peter Kallin, executive director of the Belgrade Regional Conservation Alliance, said his trust has managed to add over 1,000 acres to protected status in the past year and a half and just acquired 500 acres in Mount Vernon as part of the Kennebec Highlands project.

"We have had our largest land protection effort. Over the past 10 years we've conserved 7,000 acres," Kallin said. "We have 20 miles of hiking trails available to the public, mostly in Rome and Vienna. We own The Mountain and Mount Phillip in Rome and also take care of the trails in the Kennebec Highlands for the state. We also own French's Mountain in Rome."

Kallin said the conservation alliance has more than 1,200 members, with about 90 who volunteer on a regular basis for various activities.

The census said land trusts saw a 70 percent increase in volunteers from the previous five-year period.

The Land Trust Alliance in Washington, D.C., is a national conservation organization that leads a national network of 1,700 land trusts, Wentworth said.

"We increase the pace of conservation, so more land and natural resources get protected," he said. "We enhance the quality of conservation, so the most important lands get protected using best practices. And we ensure the permanence of conservation by creating the laws and resources needed to defend protected land over time."

Kennebec Journal Staff Writer Mechele Cooper can be contacted at 621-5663 or:

mcooper@centralmaine.com

 

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