Putting the Land in Trust
Exchange, the alliance's journal: "Enlightened people now recognize that open land is not just an aesthetic amenity. It is integrally linked to the quality of ground water and drinking water, to air quality, to biological diversity, and to maintaining the integrity of systems that we don't yet fully understand."
Galbraith says, "We have a continent without a land use plan, and we're losing the resources on the continent piece by piece, to the point where it's going to come back to haunt us." Transformations can be swift. "We're such big consumers," he says, "we can bring in a bulldozer and change the landscape overnight."
He adds, "You don't see it until it's gone."
Each ORLT project goes through stages. In response to a request for trust consideration, two or three board members visit the land, then bring a team together to assess the situation. The board can supply a geologist, a biologist, an accountant, an attorney and experts in farm management and urban design. Specialists from outside ORLT advise on features, such as caves or rivers. Together, the landowner and the team design a land use plan with environmental benefit as the first concern. Every project reserves space for wildlife.
Legal documents officially bring the land under ORLT protection, which is expected to continue through time as the organization perpetuates itself by attracting a succession of land advocates. ORLT uses three main stewardship models, sometimes blending them.
Conservation Easements. "It's lovely beyond belief," says Florence Rice of Fiddle Creek Valley in eastern Franklin County. The land, much of it in family farms, is not yet touched by the expanding St. Louis metro region immediately to the east.
Rice sought ORLT's advice in preserving the valley, and she and several neighbors are considering putting conservation easements on their properties. The easement restrictions state how the land is to be treated, according to each owner's wishes. Rice wants a horseback riding and hiking trail that crosses her property to remain whenever the land changes hands. Some landowners are contemplating an option for later division into lots of 20 to 35 acres. Another landowner plans to keep his land in one piece.
"It's a little bit of immortality," Rice says. "We're all going to turn into ions again pretty soon, but how great to leave this thing for the next person and think, I did that. Instead of leaving my footprints all over