Monday, 15 July 2024

Land trust kicks off remodel project


Susanne Scholz, executive director of the Lake County Land Trust, said the Rodman Ranch project is "moving like crazy."

The Lake County Land Trust formed in 1993 and first began its conservation work with the Rodman Ranch and Slough project. The 441-acre property sits along Clear Lake's north end and is known for its exceptional wildlife habitat – especially waterfowl.

LCLT pulled together funding from various groups – including the County of Lake, California Department of Fish and Game, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the State Department of Parks and Recreation – to acquire the property, which was completed in 1999. The trust still holds 131 acres of the ranch, with the rest held by the state Fish and Game (107 acres), County of Lake (41 acres) and Rodman Ranch Vineyard (162 acres).

LCLT's plans include renovating the house into a nature center that will entertain visitors with a chance to learn about the area's unique animals and habitats. Along with this, the trust plans to offer educational opportunities to local school children and other groups.

"It's going to be a nice, secure nature center," said Scholz.

Other aspects of the project include developing hiking trails through the property, which will give visitors opportunities for bird watching and photography, as well as picnicking.

Scholz said the trust has hired contractor Dick Dunn, who began work this month, with plans for the project to be completed in April.

At the same time, the group is continuing its fundraising efforts. With building costs continuing to rise, the trust's executive board thought it best to move forward, Scholz said, even though they've currently raised only $60,000 of the estimated $125,000 needed for completion. (See "How you can help" for information on donating to the cause.)

Small groups make a dramatic difference

The work of local land trust organizations like LCLT is making a huge impact nationwide as land set aside for conservation grows at a tremendous pace. That's one of many findings in a recent report released by the Land Trust Alliance (LTA).

The organization recently released its 2005 National Land Trust Census Report, a 22-page document that examines land conservation efforts nationwide between 2000 and 2005.

LTA President Rand Wentworth said the census, conducted every five years, documents the pace, volume and type of private land conservation occurring in America.

Among the items surveyed are number of acres privately conserved, at both the state and national levels; types of conservation tools employed by local land trusts and landowners; types of land conserved targeted for conservation; regional growth patterns in private land conservation; and human and fiscal resources of land trusts operating in the U.S.

It's groups like Lake County's local trust that Wentworth said are making the most tremendous difference, which he called "extraordinary news."

Local land trusts have tripled their pace of conservation over the past five years, he noted. Wentworth pointed to a 54-percent increase in the acreage conserved – 37 million, up from 24 million – in just five years. That's a conservation acreage equal to more than 16 times the size of Yellowstone National Park.

And since 2000, the number of land trusts has grown by 32 percent, with approximately 1,667 groups in existence nationwide. The American West is the fastest-growing region in both the number of acres saved and the number of land trusts.


Part of the equation: conservation easements

Wentworth credited conservation easements with aiding in putting more land aside.

Conservation easements entail private landowners voluntarily donating development rights to their land. In many cases, tax deductions – both state and federal – are offered to property owners who make these donations. One law signed into law in August, the Pension Protection Act of 2006 (HR 4), gives as much as a 100-percent tax deduction to qualifying farmers and ranchers who donate real property for conservation purposes, and also offers a 15-year carryover of these deductions. Those generous provisions are available for projects completed by Dec. 31, 2007.

Nita Vail, executive director of the California Rangeland Trust, pointed to increased public investment in private land conservation as one reason for more protected spaces. Californians have approved $15.3 billion in bond monies for conservation since 2002, she said, making the state the national leader in bond funding for such initiatives.

In a national landscape in which 70-percent of the land is privately held, Wentworth said "the great hope for land conservation and protecting land we love is working out arrangements with private land owners" through these easements.

Over the past five years, Wentworth reported there has been a 148-percent increase in conservation easement use. "This is a trend worth watching," he said.

Wentworth added, "I think communities are tired of seeing ... places that are part of their identity being paved over and lost."

Such easements, he said, keep property taxes lower, especially in areas surrounded by development.

LCLT, however, holds no conservation easements at this point, said Scholz. For a small trust like LCLT, meeting the necessary requirements – including expensive land appraisals (between $8,000 and $20,000 each, and two are required) and management needs – is difficult. For landowners, who must help fund endowments along with giving up development rights, donation of a conservation easement hasn't proved to be a financially viable option.

"It can be an expensive process," said Scholz. "It hasn't worked yet for landowners in Lake County."

That's one reason, said Scholz, why LCLT has worked on purchasing land outright through grants and other fundraising means.

"It takes time," said Scholz. But, she added, "It works."

Raising the standards

LTA, which formed in 1982 to advance the mission of land trusts around the United States, is the keeper of national ethical standards for land trusts, said Wentworth. That process, said Wentworth, will will let people know they have the highest ethical standards and practices.

Scholz said LCLT is a sponsor member of LTA, which means its executive board has approved a resolution stating its support of LTA's standards and practices. She pointed out, however, that at this point there is no watch dog monitoring groups' adherence to LTA's rules, which is one reason accreditation has arisen.


But the process of accrediting more than 1,600 land trusts could take several years, said Scholz, and there are concerns that landowners or agencies may decide not to work with unaccredited land trusts. So the California Council of Land Trusts is considering beginning a similar effort to help speed up the process.

Meanwhile, according to the LTA's accreditation program guidelines, LCLT can expect to pay between $2,000 and $4,000 to complete the process. LTA said it's working to make the program affordable through subsidizing the accreditation program's developing, raising an endowment and providing a discount for Land Trust Alliance Member land trusts.

Planning future efforts

LCLT's other conservation successes locally include acquisition of the 252-acre Black Forest area on Mt. Konocti – finalized in 2004. The Bureau of Land Management, said Scholz, now holds title to the forest. LCLT also holds title to a 10-acre Middletown property, Rabbit Hill.

Last summer, LCLT gathered together a number of community and government groups to hold a resources strategy planning session.

"We're a small organization with limited resources and funds," said Scholz, explaining the importance of choosing where to focus their time and energy.

Everyone involved picked five priority areas for conservation locally, said Scholz. Two of the top areas of concern, she said, were the shoreline between the state park in Kelseyville and Lakeport, and Mt. Konocti.

The group's complete findings are scheduled to be released in an upcoming report, said Scholz. That effort, she said, will in turn help the group plan for the future.

In the immediate future, all efforts are pointed toward the Rodman Slough Preserve and the renovations planned there, which will allow those here now and in generations to come to enjoy a precious part of the county's rich outdoor offerings.

Read LTA's full census report:


E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..



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