Editorial: Making conservation palatable in rural areas

Land trusts match environmentalism with respect for private property rights

Columbia Land Trust and similar entities have made significant strides in matching funds with rhetoric when it comes to conservation

Twenty-five years ago when conflicts over Pacific Northwest logging were at a fever pitch, a few groups and individuals began earnestly seeking less controversial ways to conserve environmentally valuable land. Lower-intensity controversies continue, but from the perspective of passing years, it’s possible to see and celebrate some true successes for organizations like Columbia Land Trust.

Columbia Land Trust Director Glenn Lamb recently addressed the Columbia Forum, a community group in Astoria that hosts experts and newsmakers who speak about regional issues. Columbia Land Trust, The Nature Conservancy of Washington and the North Coast Land Conservancy are among the foremost leaders of conservation efforts in the Columbia-Pacific area. They follow a broadly similar strategy of avoiding confrontation, instead acquiring property rights through purchase, bequest and other free-market mechanisms.

For its part, Vancouver-based Columbia Land Trust has so far protected something like 47 square miles of interesting forestland, critical wetland habitat and other natural assets that perform an array of functions valuable both to humans and wildlife.

Land trusts allow owners to craft solutions that work for themselves and their families, with flexibility to sell development or logging rights while retaining underlying title for residential and other uses.

Lamb noted that in Washington, 50 percent of forestland is owned by families, each holding on average between 500 and 1,000 acres. Oregon also has a rich tradition of small forest ownership, and both states still have many family farms that often play key roles in preserving open spaces, water and air quality, along with fish and wildlife habitat. Often, owners have the deepest possible feelings of love for and connection with these lands. Some kind of conveyance to a land trust provides an assurance that these values will always be cherished, while still providing personal income or tax benefits.

One of the Columbia Land Trusts best local victories was on the Long Beach (Wash.) Peninsula, where the Glenn family’s Cranguyma Farms received help preserving 3.5 miles of untouched forests that would have otherwise had to be divided among siblings. With help from $1 million in donations from a woman in Florida and another $900,000 from Portland Trail Blazers owner Paul Allen, the land trust was able to buy and preserve the land — an amazing area of primeval woods and marshes.

Elsewhere in Pacific County, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) managed to assemble ownership to the entire small Ellsworth Creek watershed above the Naselle River estuary. Ellsworth continues to be a noteworthy experiment in marrying long-term conservation goals with small-town community values.

All is not always rosy in terms of relations between conservancy groups and local citizens. TNC’s rather tone-deaf early-1990s forays in Pacific County were greeted with wild and unfounded rumors that its aim was to turn the Willapa Hills into a giant preserve and kick out all traditional economic uses. In Wahkiakum County, Columbia Land Trust has run into much friction with some neighbors of its effort to restore tidal wetlands in formerly diked pastures along Grays River. Late Chinook Tribal Chairman Ray Gardner and others have been concerned about the issue of public access to land trust property around the Wallacut River and the Knappton shoreline.

But on balance, few would now question that land trusts and conservancies manage to put money where their mouths are when it comes to protecting rural assets. As Lamb remarked in Astoria last month, “The answer lies in supporting the entire fabric of life that surrounds us every day.”