When Whatcom Land Trust agrees to protect land, either by owning it or by holding a conservation easement, we promise to take care of that land over the long term. It’s easy to get excited about new transactions, but it’s only by keeping your promises — through consistent, capable stewardship — that you truly protect the land.
Funding for Stewardship
Before making any promises, we need to know what it will cost to keep them and how we’re going to cover those costs. Whatcom Land Trust uses various formulas to determine the likely costs of stewardship for each project. If at all possible, we want to have funds in hand to cover our future stewardship costs before we close a deal. Then, we can say with confidence that we will be able to protect the land. Plus, it’s a lot easier to raise money for a new project than to cover a shortfall in our stewardship fund down the road!
Often, we ask landowners to make a stewardship contribution when they donate an easement. But the costs of stewardship sometimes exceed the amount a landowner can reasonably contribute — so we may also need to raise funds from other sources, as well.
Whatcom Land Trust will usually invest stewardship contributions in a dedicated fund. The best-case scenario is to set aside enough money that we can pay our stewardship costs from the interest, while allowing the principal to grow enough to keep up with inflation. Some land trusts use two dedicated funds for stewardship — one for routine activities and another for legal defense. Another way we make sure we are financially ready to defend our easements is through the purchase insurance through Terrafirma.
In 2020, Whatcom Land Trust strengthened its commitment to perpetual financial sustainability by establishing a Stewardship Investment Fund to bolster existing stewardship reserves, project and fund future stewardship costs, and provide opportunities for donors to complement their zeal for new land acquisitions by supporting long-term stewardship. Our goal is to grow the fund to be 100% self-supporting, including the added expense of future properties.
If you are interested in contributing to the Stewardship Investment Fund please contact our Philanthropy Director, Laura Ridenour at firstname.lastname@example.org or (360) 746-3423
Fee Land Stewardship
Stewardship of land-trust owned properties starts with thoughtful planning — a process that begins before we acquire the land. Questions to answer include: How does this land fit into our overall conservation strategy? What natural and cultural resources are present? What will we do to protect or enhance those resources? What public benefit will this land provide? What activities can take place here? What will it cost to achieve our goals? Where will that money come from? This process culminates in a land management plan to guide our stewardship activities. As we move forward, it’s essential to monitor our properties on a regular basis so we can evaluate how well we’re achieving your goals and adapt our management accordingly. Monitoring also allows us to identify any potential problems, such as trespass or overuse, and take timely action to correct them.
Conservation Easement Stewardship
When you hold a conservation easement, the goal of stewardship is to make sure that the terms of the easement are carried out. Of course, it’s far better to avoid a violation than to have to resolve one, which makes maintaining positive relationships and clear communication with landowners a core stewardship activity. An important first step is to make sure that landowners are aware of the terms of the easement, especially as the land changes hands. Ideally, the Land Trust serves as a resource for landowners, inspiring them to go above and beyond in their personal stewardship of the land and to act as ambassadors for conservation. You’re also responsible for keeping track of what happens on the land and ensuring that all activities are consistent with the easement. As a starting point, you need thorough baseline documentation, to establish the condition of the land when the easement was granted. Then, you need to monitor the property at least once a year, documenting changes and identifying any issues or concerns. When you do encounter a violation, it’s important to have a policy in place to guide your steps. If possible, partner with the landowner on a voluntary resolution, but be prepared to take legal action when necessary.