Land conservation and smart growth issues are important to many people in the northern susitna valley, but not everyone want to see government-mandated zoning for preservation. One organization that assists people in conserving private land is Great Land Trust.
Long time Trapper Creek resident Dale Saunders spent more than 40 years growing barley and watching cranes. The 75 acre farm became a regular stopping point for the sandhill cranes during their spring and fall migrations, with wide open spaces and plenty to eat. As Saunders neared the end of his life, he wanted the barley fields to continue on as a place for birds to rest and eat. With help from the Great Land Trust, 75 acres were designated as a conservation easement, and would continue on without change forever.
Great Land Trust has been assisting land owners establish conservation easements on their property in Anchorage since 1995. In 2005 they expanded with an office in the Mat Su Valley. Kim Soillen is the agent who works with land owners who want to preserve the natural character of their property forever.
The Trust now manages over 9,000 acres in Anchorage and the Mat Su. One of their recent projects is to use mapping technology to develop a broader conservation plan. They are looking for the prime areas of conservation, where wildlife make the most of streams and have developed a number of strategic conservation plans that attempt to identify where the critical habitat areas across the mat us. Soillen says they are seeking first-hand knowledge from community members about ecology habitat that they might not be able to see on maps.
Once a land-owner decides to establish a conservation easement, the process can take 6 months to a year, and involves plenty of paperwork, because once an easement has been established, it’s permanent. Soillen says that during the process, Great Land Trust helps establish what areas will be left untouched, but also determine to what extent a future landowner can continue to use the land. They will also make annual visits to the site to make sure its further use conforms to the easement guidelines.
The vision, soillen says, is to preserve more of the natural character that makes Alaska unique, without depending on the borough or state to take care of it.
anyone who would like to provide Great Land Trust with local insight on local habitat highlights, or find out more about the 25 easements across south central can do so through their website.