Trust Our Land: Tools of the trade, stewardship edition
By Torrey Davis
I’ve taken my little Subaru, Pearl, as I fondly call her, many fantastic places over the years. We’ve deftly (and maybe a bit foolishly) crawled over rocks, barrelled through conglomerates of mud and snow with gumption, and fishtailed through areas of deep sand. Though we’ve had some incredible adventures and witnessed some beautiful landscapes across the American West, none are quite like the Eagle Valley, where one can find themselves driving between pinyon-juniper desert along the Colorado River to wandering through altitudes enriched by the whispers of pines and trembling leaves of aspens.
Fortunately, over 14,000 acres across 38 properties of this landscape is protected permanently by the Eagle Valley Land Trust (EVLT). These conserved properties maintain the values that our community depends on, including scenic open space, wildlife habitat, areas for recreation and education, and historically significant lands..
Conservation easements, EVLT’s primary conservation tool, are legal agreements between a landowner and a certified easement holder, such as a land trust, which permanently limits development on the land to protect one or more of the conservation values listed previously, which are governed by IRS regulation. Part of what makes conservation easements powerful tools is that they are created cooperatively with the landowner and are completely voluntary. The landowner is essentially able to continue managing their land as they have been, for example in ranching or agriculture; and they can choose whether or not to allow public access. Once protected by conservation easement, these conserved lands are protected forever, and part of that perpetual obligation on the land trust’s side is the continued stewardship and administration of the easement. That’s where Pearl and I come in.
Every year, EVLT is required to monitor each of the properties that we protect. It’s not a bad job; I meet with each landowner to answer and ask questions, then drive, walk, or bike around each property, taking photos and notes to compare with the baseline report. It’s not unusual on these visits to see the many wonders of the valley, including scratch marks on trees, elk or lumbering cows crossing the road, or the graceful pasque flower, which is common this time of year. It’s not all beautiful views and peaceful walks in nature, however, as monitoring is a crucial responsibility on our end to ensure that the terms of the conservation easement are being upheld. Landowners are the best stewards of their land, and we take great care to maintain positive, proactive, and helpful relationships with each one year-round to ensure the easement’s terms are met.
Pearl and I work hard to monitor each property closely every year. She has her limits though, and some of our more remote conserved properties often lend themselves to walking along rugged two-tracks, which can be time-intensive and difficult to cover. We often must rely on EVLT’s most adventurous board members for a helping hand and the use of a high-clearance vehicle to make it all happen. As EVLT’s conservation portfolio continues to grow thanks to our community’s support, so too will our stewardship responsibility and complexity. That’s why Pearl needs a high-clearance, 4WD colleague with just a little bit more power. If you or someone you know is looking for a way to support the Eagle Valley Land Trust, we would greatly appreciate a donation or reduced-price sale of a 4WD, high-clearance vehicle. If you have any questions or ideas, please email email@example.com.
Torrey Davis is the Eagle Valley Land Trust’s Land Steward. To learn more about EVLT’s conservation work or community conservation initiatives, please visit www.evlt.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.