Easing Into River Protection
Recently, we have been learning about conservation easements as part of our River Protection work under a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to protect lands in the Potomac Highlands region. The Potomac Highlands are located in the Mid-Atlantic region, and host some of the most diverse and globally important resources on Earth, supporting more than 116 different fish species.
Conservation easements have been used by many organizations around the country to protect millions of acres of riverside lands, wildlife habitat, and open space. A conservation easement allows land to be put under permanent legally-binding protection by a voluntary landowner. Conservation easements put restrictions on certain activities and development on property in order to protect its ecological values. Often landowners enter into easement agreements because they receive some benefit from it through taxes, while still maintaining the use of their property.
We have been working with four subgrantees through the Potomac Highlands project to protect riverside land through conservation easements.
Cacapon Legacy Lands
This project will preserve eight easements on key conservation properties in the Cacapon and Lost River watershed in West Virginia, totaling at least 1509 acres. The restrictions placed on the participating properties will protect the land from excessive residential development, protect existing natural resources such as forests and streams, and prevent surface mining activities associated with oil and gas development. So far, our partners have secured four of the conservation easements and protected 1.5 miles of native trout streams, 561 acres of forest lands, and 462 acres of important agricultural lands. The Cacapon and Lost Rivers Land Trust is doing a great job on this project so far!
This project will utilize three conservation easements to protect over 600 acres of land near Michaux State Forest in Pennsylvania. The easements require sustainable forestry practices and prohibit harmful activities in ecologically sensitive areas. Maintaining forested lands is important for restoring groundwater as well as filtering pollutants and minimizing stream erosion. This will help provide clean drinking water to residents of the Potomac River Basin. So far one of the easements has been purchased. The Land Conservancy of Adams County is well on their way to protecting valuable lands for future generations!
Pharis Knob-Gandy Creek
This project will protect a 455 acre landscape connector between the Laurel Fork Wilderness Area and the Seneca Rock/Spruce Knob Recreation Area of Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia, restore and re-connect red spruce and northern hardwood forests to expand the habitat of the West Virginia northern flying squirrel and Cheat Mountain salamander, and protect and restore 6,500 feet of Gandy Creek and four tributary streams to Gandy Creek, to improve conditions for native brook trout and other high elevation, headwater stream inhabitants. The conservation easement for this property is currently being reviewed. The completion of this project will be a great achievement for The Nature Conservancy, Central Appalachians Spruce Restoration Initiative, U.S. Forest Service, The Mountain Institute, American Rivers, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service!
Shenandoah Valley Priority Lands
This project is intended to protect streamside and forested lands to maintain or improve water quality in target waterways, preserve blocks and corridors of wildlife habitat, and maintain rural landscapes and the cultures and economies they support. More than 1100 acres will be protected through this project in Virginia, and three conservation easements have already been completed, with three more on the horizon this year. Our subgrantees at the Potomac Conservancy have been doing great outreach to local communities to talk about the benefits of these projects from clean air and drinking water, game species to hunt or fish, extractive renewable resource industries, like timber and agriculture, and scenic landscapes and recreational opportunities. We are hopeful that these projects will interest more people in supporting their great work!