Fragmentation of forests, farmland, and other natural areas presents a challenge for land conservation in the San Juans—a challenge that requires applying new strategies to achieve preservation goals. One approach that has proven effective and is becoming increasingly popular is the concept of “neighborhood easements”—a series of adjoining small-area easements which, taken collectively, protect elements of an areas’ conservation value and become much more valuable ecologically than the sum of its parts.
On Entrance Mountain, a group of nine neighboring landowners made an impressive series of gifts that protected the forested mountainside stretching along the southeastern reaches of East Sound, the large inlet that nearly divides Orcas Island in half. Those relaxing at Rosario Resort, or boating up this fetch of water, can appreciate the quiet timbered hillside rising above, free forever from development pressure. The collaboration continued when adjacent landowners Bill and Molly Wolfe decided to preserve an additional 122 acres, and subsequent purchases by the San Juan County Land Bank expanded the wildlife corridor even further.
The concept of neighborhood easements allows smaller-acreage landowners to achieve the same benefits as those with larger properties. Stewardship by the Preservation Trust is made easier as restoration efforts, as well as annual monitoring visits, can be done more efficiently. Collaborations such as this serve an even greater purpose, though. By grouping together the developed areas, and leaving larger swaths of land untouched, the habitat value for wildlife increases. In the face of ever-increasing development pressure, these partnerships are proving to be one of the most valuable legacies these private landowners can leave.