If you are close to the issue of open space preservation, you probably know that there is a great sea change underway for land trusts in California. This change is happening quietly, but affects all Californians who enjoy the myriad of outdoor recreation opportunities available in the state. It is fair to say that for decades, the main focus of most land trusts in the state was to do one thing—acquire land. This was often done just ahead of the pace of development and has provided an impressive number of protected acres in the state. Land trusts now find themselves in the middle of a lesson that many other “industries” have had to navigate throughout history—their operating environment has changed. The Conservation Horizons Committee’s most recent report outlines the breadth of these changes. This blog post will focus on one particular change factor and how the Pacific Forest and Watershed Lands Stewardship Council (Stewardship Council) is addressing this challenge.
The Conservation Horizon Report puts it simply, “long-term stewardship is largely unfunded but the need will grow over time.” Much of the prime land for resource conservation in California has been protected and the land available now is generally much more expensive to acquire. Simultaneously, California is undergoing dramatic demographic shifts and, in order to build public support for open space protection, land trusts must engage new audiences. These, among other factors, all point towards the need for land trusts to shift their focus from acquisition to stewardship.
Formed in 2003 to manage the land conservation commitment that stemmed from a settlement agreement between Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) and the California Public Utilities Commission, the Stewardship Council is uniquely positioned to support a select number of land trusts making this shift in focus. The Stewardship Council is charged with ensuring that 140,000 acres of watershed lands, owned by PG&E be conserved in perpetuity for multiple public benefits. Their work has ensured that a dozen regional land trusts have the capacity and funding to effectively steward their conservation easements over the long-term; that stakeholders are engaged as land owners and their voices and values are reflected in management planning; and that youth are connected to nature and develop a lifelong relationship with our open spaces.
When “in perpetuity” is the timeframe of your mission, it can be daunting to determine the funding needed to accomplish your goals. One of the ways that the Stewardship Council has helped land trusts deal with this challenge is to develop a calculator tool that can be used to help determine the annual costs of monitoring their easements. Once that cost projection is developed, the Stewardship Council establishes an endowment fund that will generate enough interest income to fund the on-going management needs over time. This is a unique and elegant approach to solving the challenge of funding stewardship in perpetuity, and it is just a part of the wonderful work the Stewardship Council does. Their work will also return land to three Native American tribes; as well as double the amount of land available to the University of California Center for Forestry and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection to conduct climate change research in the Sierra Nevada with the goal of developing and testing improved forestry techniques and introducing the next generation of leaders to magnificent open spaces.
We would love to hear other solutions to funding stewardship you may have. Use Twitter and tweet your response to @OG_Consult and use the hashtag #FundStewardship.