By Lynn Lozier, ConservationTrack Director
California Chapter, The Nature Conservancy
I sure enjoyed this year’s LTA Rally! I know they don’t advertize it this way so much any more, but to me it will always be “Rally”. ”Rally” just captures the spirit of the whole event. Nearly two thousand folks from all over the country got together to rub shoulders, network, learn from each other - and do a lot of cheering! The Land Trust Alliance is such an effective, and lean, service organization. It puts together a party where the best and the brightest volunteer - speaking, teaching and problem-solving with the rest of us.
Portland was an ideal venue, folks enjoyed the downtown, the breweries and the river. Being an outside girl, I signed up for the “Wheels and Water: Willamette Greenway Trail and River” field trip. Portland’s Parks and Recreation Department actually has a “City Nature Division”. Our trip’s multigenerational leadership included the newest volunteer coordinator, current head, and retired visionary leader. It’s just so cool to hear about how they got what they have, what they’ve done by way of access, replanting and restoration, and what is in the works for the future. Canoed the river (with an old gravel mine in the middle!), biked the greenway from the burbs to downtown. The demise of heavy industry has opened up space to see and be along the river, as well as some contamination challenges.
Of course, it wasn’t all play, I was one of about 150 people who actually managed to drag ourselves out of bed in time for a 7:30AM panel discussion with the IRS. Sounds like snooze material, doesn’t it? Well, not if your group has been given conservation land by people who then take a tax deduction! There was lots of good advice to pass on to land donors about what to include when they file their return: If attaching a copy of the baseline document for a donated easement will answer questions at the front end that preclude the need for further investigation by the IRS – well, that’s really good to know! The three IRSers actually understood this odd donative duck the conservation easement, and even answered questions from the audience. That’s a far cry from monosyllabic responses from the first IRS rep at Rally, four years ago! This is what I love about LTA – persistence, consistency and respectful engagement built a relationship where there wasn’t one. Great modeling for effective conservation generally. In the mean time, I vote for moving this session to a time slot when the sun has already come up!
This year I had a chance to “go deep” with a four-hour seminar on water rights in the west focusing on their inclusion in conservation easements. Half way through organizers broke us out into regional groups to work through a scenario as an exercise. The theoretical got specific pretty quickly when we looked at too much use of too little water. This is a zero-sum game. Very tough to ensure that aquatic-dependent everything (fish, vegetation, birds, and other animals including us humans) are sustained. Increasing efficiency of use is the only handle on making the same amount of water go farther. Struggling to structure that, so the legal rights to the water are not lost in the process, is what the session was about. All of this especially sobering in the face of climate change with more heat and growing water needs.
I hit a bump on the day before last when the lead presenter for a session I helped organize had to bow out due to a family health crisis. Gratefully, NOAA’s Roger Griffis, on loan to LTA, stepped in at the last minute and provided a masterful introduction to our 90 minute session on “The Use of Conservation Easements in Adapting Conservation to A Changing Climate”. He shared his optimism that locally useful projections are being developed and will be available soon. My colleague, Kirk Klausmeyer of TNC, presented a case study from coastal California in which a local tree, salamander and butterfly were evaluated relative to expected changes in heat and water availability in order to identify the most vulnerable stages of their life cycles – conditions that may be addressed in easement drafting. Finally Ann Taylor Schwing focused on conservation easement language with the foresight and flexibility to address those changes while still ensuring that conservation outcomes – even changing ones – are solidly supported in their legal context. I came out of it hopeful that, since we must act, that we will be able to do so in informed and adaptable ways.
Between sessions, I dropped by Essention’s booth showcasing ConservationTrack. We had a super location, right between the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy and Island Press – the premier publisher of books for conservation practitioners. Lots of folks stopped by to watch the demo that was running and talk about their land trust’s information management needs. We also had a good turn out in our 5:00PM “after hours session” where Matt Freeman of the Land Trust of Santa Cruz County shared his experience as one of the first small land trusts implementing ConservationTrack. We made great connections and now have excellent prospects from which to select the land trusts for subsidy in our “early adopters” group. We look forward to working with them to further refine the system for use by smaller land trusts.