It Takes a Neighborhood
Small-scale conservation can add up
to something big
Super-sized conservation opportunities like Turtleback Mountain Preserve— 1,578 acres in one fell swoop!—come around once a decade, if that. Most rural land in the San Juan Islands is divided into parcels that average less than eight acres each.
Collecting many small, isolated “postage stamps” does not always add up to a large public benefit, in terms of protecting significant wildlife and plant habitat, wide-open views, farmland, and public access to trails. So, how can we get around the “postage stamp” conundrum?Read more
One approach the Preservation Trust has successfully pursued is known as “neighborhood conservation easements.” The idea is to inspire the owners of adjoining properties in a high-priority conservation area to place permanent protections on their land. Collectively, these individual easements can add up to something big, protecting large swaths of a rural valley, a vital watershed, a stretch of scenic road, or an entire mountainside.
A group of several neighboring landowners did just that on Entrance Mountain, the dual peak on Orcas Island that stands sentinel at the entrance of East Sound, between Rosario and Olga. The 1,200-foot mountain, with its forested slopes and rocky crags, is home to a large variety of native plants and wildlife. In addition to its intrinsic conservation values, Entrance Mountain is a highly visible landmark on the ferry corridor and serves as a kind of “ambassador” landscape for hundreds of thousands of people each year as they transit the islands.
A glance at the county parcel map shows the complex puzzle pattern of ownership that evolved after subdivision of the area began in the 1950s. The Preservation Trust’s efforts to reassemble some of these pieces began in the late ‘80s, when a critical mass of four owners donated conservation easements protecting parcels on Entrance Mountain’s west slope. With the success of this first phase, more neighbors joined the project, culminating with protection of the largest parcel on the mountain—122 acres encompassing the mountain’s entire south face. The County Land Bank acquired additional key parcels surrounding the summit, completing a 340-acre block of protected lands stretching from the waterfront near Buck Bay to Moran State Park.
This is all thanks to a group of neighboring landowners who understood the original vision and exercised the generosity, foresight, and patience required to see it through.
Another example of neighborhood conservation took shape on Lopez Island when, in 2003, three families approached the Preservation Trust with a request for help. The families— the Avents, Thomases, and DeVores—had long recognized that an expansive forest-lined meadow they held in common forms an important agricultural resource, a wildlife migration corridor, and a popular sweeping view of Swifts Bay for people traveling along Center Road (Lopez’s main thoroughfare). SJPT helped the families craft a conservation easement that permanently protects the 70-acre meadow.
The Preservation Trust continues to work with neighbors in critical habitat areas to knit together tracts of protected land, especially along shorelines. In the face of ever-increasing development pressure, these partnerships are proving to be one of the most valuable legacies that private landowners in our islands can leave.