Davidson a leader in state’s conservation push
by Staff Writer
It might be easier to preserve land by buying it up and keeping it pristine and protected. But even without deep pockets, land trusts are making North Carolina a leader in land conservation.
The National Land Trust Census reported in November that North Carolina has conserved 339,669 new acres since 2005, with land trusts responsible for almost 40 percent.
Davidson Lands Conservancy, like most land trusts, helps landowners voluntarily conserve land through conservation easements.
Landowners are eligible for tax breaks if they agree to give up certain development rights and demonstrate some community benefit of preserving the land. That could mean opening up the land as a park or preserve for recreational or public benefit, or a wildlife habitat, among other conservation efforts, Executive Director Roy Alexander said.
Not all conservation easements look the same, and the conservancy doesn’t want them to.
“There’s a need for diversity of habitats for the wildlife or different ecological features that result in the community benefit,” Alexander said.
Conservation easements have been an indispensable tool in preserving land, Alexander said, and groups are working to make sure the U.S. Congress renews the tax incentive set to expire at the end of 2011.
Without the incentive, many landowners who may be land rich, but cash poor, could find transactional costs could keep them from acquiring a conservation easement.
Davidson Lands Conservancy primarily helps landowners through the conservation easement process, then acts as a steward for the land, monitoring the environment and making sure no activities violate the terms of the agreement.
They also work to keep conservation in the public eye. The conservancy played a key role in the county’s acquisition of the former Abersham and Fisher Farm properties.
“In both cases, we were simply advocates,” Alexander said. “What we did was simply to put these in front of the governing bodies at the time. In both cases, it was a joint effort between the town of Davidson and Mecklenburg County. We were just saying, these are important, these are excellent choices to protect.”
Eventually, the conservancy’s efforts caught the attention of the North Carolina chapter of the Trust for Public Land, which held the property until the county could purchase it.
Davidson Lands Conservancy and volunteers cleared and opened Lake Davidson Nature Preserve, including 2,500 feet of walking trails.
Board President Pam Dykstra has led the conservancy’s education efforts, partnering with Woodland Discovery for World of Wonder, known as WOW, this year to connect children with nature at younger ages.
WOW’s booth at the Davidson Farmers Market attracts kids’ attention with activities and information. World of Wonder leads nature outings for families and will be publishing a map online highlighting local opportunities to explore the outdoors, Dykstra said.
The conservancy visits fourth grade classrooms to teach the values of natural land and environmental stewardship.
Board secretary Rob Van Epps, the conservancy’s bird and butterfly expert, leads some of those walks. His passion for these creatures helps inspire his conservation efforts.
“For me, the overriding factor is that I want to see land set aside for animals and plants to be able to live, as well as people,” Van Epps said.
For those willing to get a little muddy, some of these walks explore the West Branch Nature Preserve.
“It is absolutely the most outstanding natural wetland anywhere in this part of the state,” Alexander said. “Extremely rich in plants and animals that inhabit wetlands in this area, it was simply going to be destroyed by adjacent development.”
Laws already protected the 23 acres of wetlands, but Alexander said development right up to the edge of the property would have disturbed natural water flow and turned the area into a retainer pond. So the conservancy advocated to whoever would listen until Mecklenburg County found the opportunity to purchase and preserve it.
Now the conservancy helps monitor the land, which does not yet have developed paths.
Davidson Lands Conservancy Board Vice President Rodney Graham, who was recently elected to the Davidson town board, develops homes with John Marshall Custom Homes. He sees development and conservation working together in Davidson’s future, but only with smart planning.
He believes developing new homes around existing infrastructure, like exit 30, will allow Davidson to keep its open space, which helps the environment and land values.
As a new commissioner, Graham wants to encourage residents to use Davidson’s open space.
“I think there are fewer and fewer places that are in their natural state. Those places are important. They’re special, and they’re good for the soul, so to speak,” Graham, who regularly visits Fisher Farm, said. “Now, what we need to work on is how do people take advantage of these open spaces.”
The conservancy is currently working on four new easements. If these go through, Davidson will have 90 acres of newly preserved land, including rich, mature hardwood forests.
“I’d like to see us continue down that path where we are actively working with the community to find significant properties or parcels of land that we can set aside for the benefit of wildlife and public use,” Van Epps said.
Want to learn more?
For more information visit the Davidson Land Conservancy’s website at www.davidsonlands.org, its Facebook page at www.facebook/protectland, or its Twitter feed at Twitter.com/davidsonlands
For monthly guided bird walks hosted by the Mecklenburg County Audubon Society visit www.meckbirds.org