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Land trusts make gains in preserving acreage.

Byline: Diane Dietz The Register-Guard

The pulse is quickening in the 16 individual land trust organizations that endeavor to conserve wildlife habitat, agricultural and scenic lands throughout the state.

The tiny, nonprofit Central Coast Land Conservancy recently hired a coordinator and put up the first website in its 18-year existence.

Landowners in western Lane, Lincoln and Tillamook counties have placed 230 acres in its care, including 35 acres worth of old trees and three fish-bearing streams near Big Creek in the Coast Range.

"We said, 'We have some money. Let's move ourselves along,' " longtime board member Fran Recht said.

Land trusts are happening this year on the state level, too. The 16 smaller organizations, including the Lane-based McKenzie River Trust, united recently to form the Coalition of Oregon Land Trusts, or COLT.

The statewide group is helping professionalize the grass-root organizations with training in finances, leadership, communications and outreach, said Carla Perry, coordinator of the Central Coast Land Conservancy.

Land trusts are nonprofit agencies that help landowners preserve their acreage through donations or through establishing a conservation easement that specifies that the habitat must be preserved, although the land remains in the owner's possession.

Land trusts sometimes are used to end a dispute over development. The trust negotiates the sale of the disputed land for conservation and the original landowner gets a satisfactory price - and a hefty tax credit.

The first land trust in Oregon was formed 34 years ago. Now, of the 16, some focus on preserving wetlands, forestlands and sustainable agriculture lands, while most serve a defined geography.

Some donations are spectacular. Two years ago, The Nature Conservancy, a global trust, arranged the purchase of 1,270 acres at the confluence of the Middle and Coast Forks of the Willamette River from the Wildish family, a gravel producer, for $23.4 million. Now, it's being managed for Chinook salmon, the northern red-legged frog and western meadowlark.

The John Jaqua family established a 1,200-acre Coburg Ridge Preserve by selling a conservation easement to The Nature Conservancy. In a distant future, when Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend patients gaze out at the south face of the Coburg Hills, they'll see trees instead of luxury homes.

But the little land trusts, such as the Central Coast Land Conservancy based in Depoe Bay, preserve smaller but important bits of property in the same way, Recht said. Coastal residents wanted to keep their upland skyline green, so the Central Coast Land Conservancy helped them get started. Landowners preserved two plots above Yaquina Bay, 100 acres and 60 acres, for conservation.

The coastal conservancy has two new conservation projects in the works right now "that are really exciting," Perry said. "One of those covers a large territory."

The statewide COLT organization plans to identify and map all the protected lands in the state and to identify key properties for protection from development in the future, Perry said.

Alone, the smaller trusts "don't really have the staff to be proactive in finding important pieces of property," she said. "Mostly we respond if somebody approaches us."

MORE ON LAND TRUSTS

Find a primer here: www.opb.org/programs/oregonstory/land_trusts/

Coastal Conservancy: www.centralcoastlandconservancy.org/

McKenzie River Trust: 541-345-2799 or mckenzieriver.org

Coalition of Oregon Land Trusts: Joe Moll at jmoll@mckenzieriver.org
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Title Annotation:Local News
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Apr 18, 2012
Words:550
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