Here are answers to just a few of the questions we often receive. Please feel free to call us at (360) 468-3202 if you have a question that isn’t answered here!
Founded in 1979, the San Juan Preservation Trust is a private, non-profit and membership-based land trust dedicated to helping people and communities conserve land in the San Juan Islands of Washington State. The Preservation Trust has permanently protected more than 260 properties, 37 miles of shoreline and 15,000 acres on 20 islands, including land now managed as public parks, nature preserves, wildlife habitat, and working farms and forests. The stated mission of the San Juan Preservation Trust is to “preserve and protect open spaces, scenic views, forests, agricultural lands, habitats, watershed, riparian corridors, wetlands, and shorelines in the San Juan Archipelago”.
The Preservation Trust is governed by an (up to) 21-member volunteer board of trustees that each live in (or own property in) the San Juan Islands. Trustees are elected to three-year terms by the general membership. The organization has a staff of ten, including three full-time employees, five part-time employees and two resident caretakers. The Preservation Trust is one of 158 land trusts (out of over 1,700 nationally) that is fully accredited by the Land Trust Accreditation Commission, a distinction that indicates that the organization meets the highest national standards for excellence, upholds the public trust and ensures that conservation efforts are permanent.
There is no minimum requirement for a membership contribution. Donors at all levels are considered members, and will receive Land & Legacy, the Preservation Trust's newsletter. Members also receive special invitations to membership events and educational outings on some of the Trust's spectacular conserved properties.
The Preservation Trust is currently (2012) evaluating public access potential for many of our fee-owned nature preserves and will be making access information available to the public in the near future. However, because the Preservation Trust's conservation easements are held on privately owned land, public access to these properties is not permitted. The Preservation Trust offers annual guided access to some of the more remote and sensitive conservation easements and preserves, and will often grant permission to access protected land for education and research purposes.
Although the ultimate goal of both organizations is to protect the natural and scenic resources of the San Juan Islands, their approaches and priorities differ. The Preservation Trust is a private, non-profit organization that relies on funding from private individuals and foundations to fund operations, including the support of over 2,000 members. The Land Bank is a government agency funded by a one percent real estate transfer tax paid for by purchasers of property in San Juan County. As a public agency, the Land Bank is particularly interested in projects that provide some form of public access, whereas the conservation projects undertaken by the Preservation Trust are not limited by this objective. The Preservation Trust and the Land Bank will sometimes work together as partners to leverage private and public dollars for special land projects (such as Turtleback Mountain in 2006, Watmough Bight in 2007 and Beaverton Marsh in 2011). It should also be noted that the San Juan Preservation Trust works throughout the San Juan archipelago (including the islands of San Juan, Skagit and Whatcom Counties), while the Land Bank's funding is restricted to the islands of San Juan County.
The Preservation Trust does not seek to stop growth, but would like to help ensure that growth takes place in a way that preserves some of the natural attributes that originally attracted our residents and visitors (human and otherwise) to these islands.
As the popularity of the San Juan Islands continues to grow, so too does the demand for both residential development and land conservation. To help the San Juan Preservation Trust track these conflicting interests, we have developed - and continuously update - a conservation plan that identifies critical natural features and priority landscapes throughout the islands. This plan not only prioritizes those special places that we believe must be protected, but it also tells us when to say "no" to opportunities that could undermine our overarching goal to strike a favorable balance.
Voluntary conservation of private lands plays an extremely important role in shaping the future of the San Juan Islands. As the popularity of these islands continues to feed development pressures, and as reduced funding forces our local, state and federal land agencies to consider reducing public services and divesting or closing publicly-owned properties, private conservation will be essential to the long-term health, beauty and accessibility of our islands.
Over 80% of the land that has been protected by the San Juan Preservation Trust generates property taxes. These include Preservation Trust-owned lands and private properties protected with Preservation Trust conservation easements. In some cases, such as the 1,575-acre Turtleback Mountain Preserve on Orcas Island, lands protected by the Preservation Trust have been transferred (with conservation restrictions) to public parks or other tax-exempt government agencies. Under limited circumstances, the Preservation Trust - as a qualified non-profit conservation group - can also file to exempt nature preserves from property taxes when they meet a public benefit threshold.
No, the San Juan Preservation Trust does NOT receive any tax revenues. The Preservation Trust is a private organization that relies completely on private donations from individuals, families, businesses, and private foundations.
The Preservation Trust prizes working farmland as integral to both the character of our landscapes and the long-term health of our community. We actively seek opportunities to preserve productive agricultural land for the future of farming and food security in the islands.
The San Juan Preservation Trust protects private land in the San Juan Islands in (essentially) two ways: We own land, and we hold conservation easements on land owned by private landowners. The Preservation Trust either purchases these interests in land or receives them as donations. We then have a legal responsibility to monitor every single property under our protection in perpetuity.
A conservation easement is a voluntary contract between a landowner and the San Juan Preservation Trust in which the owner places permanent restrictions on future uses of some or all of his or her property to protect its natural values. The restrictions usually limit the number of future home sites but can, and often do, limit other uses as well. The easement is donated by the owner to the Preservation Trust, which then has the responsibility to enforce the terms of the easement in perpetuity. The landowner still owns the property and can use it, sell it, or leave it to heirs, but the restrictions of the easement stay with the land forever. For much more information about conservation easements, visit the "Land Conservation" section under the "What We Do" heading above.
Each property is evaluated individually after careful investigation of its resources, qualities and conservation values. In general, protection of the property must significantly contribute to the rural character, cultural heritage, natural heritage or scenic beauty of the San Juan archipelago. Sometimes, one factor alone is significant enough to merit protection. There is more information about our conservation priorities available on this web site, including our Conservation Plan. Visit the "Priorities and Project Selection" section under the "What We Do" heading above.
While our conservation easement donors are motivated by a desire to maintain the magic of their land and contribute to the natural integrity of our islands, they are often forfeiting significant value when they place limits their ability to fully develop or use their property. As the conservation easement has been donated to a qualified conservation organization (the San Juan Preservation Trust), this is considered by the IRS to be a charitable gift that benefits the public good, and is therefore entitled to receive federal tax benefits. For more information about conservation easements and their benefits, including tax incentives, visit the "Land Conservation" section under the "What We Do" heading above.
The San Juan Preservation Trust's stewardship staff documents baseline conditions when a conservation easement is first received, then monitors each conservation property at least annually to ensure that the terms of the easement are being met. If an easement violation is discovered, it is the Preservation Trust's responsibility to ensure that the violation is rectified. Much of the funding for our long-term stewardship responsibilities comes from voluntary donations that we receive from the very same people that donate conservation easements to us.