PROTECTION OF LAND
In 2014, we have permanently protected an additional seven properties, including 230 acres and 7,146 feet of shoreline on four islands. These include 95 acres of working farmland (on Lopez and San Juan); 60 acres of shoreline salmon and forage fish habitat (on Stuart Island); and 75 acres in three forested parcels that connect and expand previously-protected Preservation Trust lands (on Orcas, San Juan and Lopez). We are actively working on a number of other acquisition projects on Waldron, Orcas, Blakely, Sinclair, San Juan, Shaw and Henry Island (among others). These include the “quiet phase” of a potential capital campaign on San Juan, along with two neighborhood conservation easement projects on Waldron and Orcas: as many important island landscapes have been subdivided into multiple ownership, we have been commissioned by the State of Washington to develop a formal process for engaging several landowners at once to protect their adjoining properties with a common conservation easement.
Thanks to a generous response from the Orcas Island community, we paid off the 3-year, $1.0 million loan we needed to purchase our 111-acre Turtleneck Preserve in September. A popular new trail across this property connects our Turtleback Mountain Preserve with our spectacular – and until now inaccessible – Turtlehead Preserve. We now turn our attention to paying off the $1.4 outstanding balance on the $3.4 million loan we needed to purchase Vendovi Island, and will launch the final phase of this campaign in 2015 to retire this debt once and for all. A committee of project supporters has developed a long-term vision for the island that we have begun to implement; in the meantime, a generous island family has seeded a new endowment to provide a permanent source of funding to care for both Vendovi and our nearby Jack Island Preserve. We will continue fundraising to add to this endowment over the coming years.
CARING FOR LAND
As our acquisition activities have accelerated in recent years, our stewardship effort has also expanded significantly. Once limited to annual monitoring visits to our properties, our stewardship staff is now spending much more time repairing damaged or neglected properties, restoring important habitat and species, providing public access, and defending the integrity of our work. We are engaging eager volunteers and young people from Washington Conservation Corps to help us remove invasive plants throughout the island. On Waldron Island we are working with the community to stop the advance of invasive English ivy on the island, and we are removing the removal of an abandoned English holly plantation that has served as the seed source for an invasive problem that has challenged that island for generations. In 2014 we continue to lead efforts to re-establish the Western bluebird, the Island Marble Butterfly and the endangered Golden Indian paintbrush to the islands, and we expanded our program to revive the few remnants of Garry oak savannah that remain throughout the island. In partnership with the San Juan County Land Bank we have established a native plant nursery on our Red Mill Farm on San Juan Island to support these (among many other) restoration projects.
Stewardship is a perpetual responsibility for us. To ensure our lands will be cared for in the future, we have made a strategic commitment to provide public access to some of our preserves as a long-term approach to educate and engage our constituents. Our “Outings and Events” program continues to lead educational trips to some of our most special preserves and introduce our constituents to the benefits of our conservation work. In June 2014 we celebrated the opening of a new public trail on our 100-acre Graham Preserve on Shaw Island, which connects the Shaw Island Community Center with two previously-disconnected portions of the Shaw Island County Park. In the meantime, our Vendovi Island Preserve continues to be a very popular destination, with almost 1,500 visitors to the island tallied this year. To help us manage our growing public access program, we have engaged an outdoor interpretation and design firm, Sea Reach, to enhance visitor experiences while protecting the natural assets on the preserves we open to the public.
The Preservation Trust has a never-ending obligation to defend every property we accept into our network of conserved lands. Oil spills are a significant concern, so we have been working with the Washington State Department of Ecology to develop a Geographic Response Plan for Vendovi Island, which lies right in the middle of escalating tanker ship traffic. Sometimes we have no choice but to take legal action, and in 2014 we prevailed in one unfortunate situation when a neighbor (a bed & breakfast owner) illegally clear-cut on one of our shoreline preserves to improve his view. While we don’t enjoy episodes like this, we have been gratified by the positive outpouring of support we received from our island community for taking this action, and we hope that the significant publicity that this created will discourage other such incidents in the future.
NOTE: The Preservation Trust is a charter member of “Terrafirma,” a new insurance pool formed by land trusts around the country to help defend our conservation work into the future.
In 2014, the San Juan Preservation Trust celebrated its 35th anniversary of protecting and caring for special places throughout the San Juan Islands. Since we were founded by a group of private island citizens in 1979, we have permanently protected more than 15,000 acres, 21 miles of trails and 40 miles of shoreline on 20 islands, and we remain among the top 2% in the country in number of properties protected among over 1,700 land trusts. We are now the largest private landowner in the San Juan Islands, and we are responsible for almost 40% of the marine shoreline protected by land trusts operating within Puget Sound.
Thanks to the significant investment made by our 3,800 members, we are pleased to report that we are meeting the responsibilities – and challenges – that this success has generated.