Feet on the Ground: So, what are you doing?

Hello readers, it’s been a while since the last post. I just drove across the country. Again. 3,200 miles, through 11 states, in 4.5 days. Unfortunately, blazing across the country like that doesn’t leave a huge amount of time to explore. But it did give me the opportunity to listen to all my music on repeat and make it through a 42 hour audiobook. And it let me see this:

Utah Desert

Utah Desert
Photo: Max Odland

So what brought me back out to the west coast so soon? This time it’s to serve as conservation associate at the Shasta Land Trust in Redding, CA. In preparation for explaining what I do in person to people who haven’t been exposed to land trusts before, land trusts are NGOs that focus on conserving the natural, historic, scenic, or working value of privately owned­ lands. The obvious follow up questions I anticipate are why, and how?

Why protect private land? Most people have heard of national parks, forests, and wildlife reserves. These large swaths of public land, among others, are managed for various purposes by different branches of the federal government. They do a tremendous amount to protect this country’s natural heritage, reserves of natural resources, habitat and biodiversity, etc., etc. Together, the National Park Service (88.5 million acres), Fish and Wildlife Service (145 million acres), Bureau of Land Management (247.3 million acres), and National Forest Service (193 million acres) manage 28% of the entire area of the country. Of course there are other public lands, including lands owned by each state, but that still leaves a lot of privately owned land.

That’s where land trusts come in. Land trusts use a variety of tools to help landowners protect the ‘value’ of land. If that sounds vague, that’s because the particular ‘value’ could be natural, cultural, aesthetic, or productive. It’s up the individual land trust and the landowners with whom they work which values are being protected. Whatever their motives, land trusts are nothing to sneeze at. As of 2010, 1723 land trusts protect about 47 million acres across the country. Maybe it’s not quite on the scale of the Fed’s holdings, but 47 million acres is still a little larger than the state of Washington. Also, the amount of land protected by land trusts doubled from 2000 to 2010, so it looks like they’re on the rise.

Land trusts sometimes buy properties outright, but they more frequently use something called a conservation easement to protect land. Conservation easements are somewhat complex, so I’ll attempt to do them justice later. At its most basic, though, a conservation easement is an agreement in which the property owner donates or sells the right to do certain things on their land to another party (queue the land trust). This generally restricts development on the land, while still allowing the owner to use it in the way they want. Again, more on this soon.

So here I am, about to start a year with the Shasta Land Trust. The trust is dedicated to “Conserving the beauty, character, and diversity of significant lands in far Northern California.” I myself will participate in this mission by organizing events and volunteers, educating and reaching out to community members, and monitoring the SLT’s conservation easement properties next spring through fall.

Of course there’ll be plenty of time to explore, too.

Mountain Playground

Mountain Playground
Photo: Max Odland

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