Photo by: Tim Abbott

Caring for the Land

 The IRS requires that donors of conservation easements produce a Baseline Documentation Report (BDR) that inventories the conservation values of the property and documents its present condition at the time of the transaction. This Baseline Documentation Report must be prepared by someone familiar with its current requirements. It is common for the conservation entity to provide the BDR and ask the donor or seller of the Conservation Easement to pay for it.  

Conservation Area Management Plans provide baseline information about land trust property to inform stewardship of specific resources of conservation value and monitor progress toward desired outcomes. They are decision-making tools that document the significance of land held in fee for conservation purposes and guide its use and management.  

There are a number of excellent reasons why conservation organizations should have management plans for their preserves. Simply put, you can’t make good management decisions without a good management plan. Perpetuity implies perpetual care. You can’t take steps to ensure that the conservation values associated with your property persist through time unless you know what they are, where they are located at the site, and understand the patterns and processes that affect their viability. You can’t abate threats unless you know what is causing them, and you can’t tell what strategies work unless you can measure their impacts.

You also cannot comply with Land Trust Standards and Practices without appropriate management plans for each conservation property owned by a Land Trust. Land trusts seeking accreditation by the Land Trust Alliance must satisfy the review committee that they have sufficient funds set aside for legal monitoring and defense, stewardship and property management. For conservation easements, the minimum amount required is $5,000/easement, but the unique attributes of the property and its stewardship requirements may justify a greater amount.  

Conservation Area Management Plans share some elements in common with Baseline Documentation Reports (BDRs) prepared for easement land. They typically include site descriptions, maps, photographs and other documentation of the important conservation values of a property.  They both are used to monitor properties for impacts to these conservation values due to inappropriate use. They differ from each other in that their primary purpose is to guide stewardship by the land trust rather than to substantiate conservation values for tax purposes for the land owner. 

Conservation values are directly related to the conservation goals, stewardship principles and public benefit mission of the organization that owns the preserve. These may include:

  • Native Species/Natural Communities/Large Ecosystems: includes specific species, habitat types at various scales, wildlife corridors; 
  • Cultural Resources/Landscape: includes sites of historic and /or archeological significance, working lands, scenic viewsheds, geologic features, rural character, village gateways;
  • Water Quality/Quantity: includes groundwater recharge areas, headwaters, seeps and springs, drainage basins, aquifers, wetlands, riparian habitat, streams and rivers, estuaries, open water;
  • Recreational/Educational Opportunities: includes environmental education, active and/or passive recreation, demonstration projects; 
  • Ecosystem Services: includes water filtration, carbon sequestration,  acid deposition mitigation.

Not all values will be priorities on every property.  A good conservation area management plan establishes which conservation values at a site have priority, provides sufficient detail to inform management decisions, and identifies significant knowledge gaps and resources needed to achieve management goals.

Desired Status (Goals) for Conservation Values

Viability goals for natural resources are generally based on: 

  • Size: number of individuals in population, number of populations, size of occurrence, connectivity to adjacent populations;
  • Condition: composition and structure of natural community, reproductive success of populations;   connectivity of habitats, width of buffers, natural diversity;
  • Landscape context: ecosystem integrity, distance from fragmenting features, % of impervious surface.

Threats (Stresses and Sources of Stress):  

  • Stresses might include low species diversity, low reproductive success, loss of reproductive individuals, ground and/or surface water degradation, erosion, nutrification, habitat loss/fragmentation, acid deposition, altered hydrology, siltation, and turbidity.
  • Sources of Stress might include pests and pathogens, invasive species, inappropriate land management, inappropriate recreational activity, poaching, acid rain, global climate change, altered disturbance regimes, stream impoundments, poorly designed construction, land conversion, earth removal and/or soil disturbance, and point and non-point source pollution.

Management Objectives and Indicators:

Every management activity should have a measurable outcome. Its objective should be to enhance the viability of the conservation values of the site. It should be designed to reduce or mitigate sources of stress and have indicators that the land managers have the capacity to measure. Land protection to prevent inappropriate development can be a management tool when it measurably addresses the main threats to the conservation values of the site.

Photo by: Tim Abbott