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Science

The Sagebrush Steppe Land Trust

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This week on Sustainable Idaho, Scott and Rachel find out more about the Sagebrush Steppe Land Trust and land easements as a conservation tool. Speaking to the Director of the Trust (Matt Lucia) and an individual in the process of establishing a conservation easement (Kathy Spiegel), Sustainable Idaho investigates how the Trust operates and why local people are keen to become involved. 

Last week on Sustainable Idaho, we talked with Matt Lucia and Jamie Campbell from the Sagebrush Steppe Land Trust about their new partnership with the City of Pocatello on the Portneuf River Vision Project.

When we talked with Matt Lucia, the Director of the Sagebrush Steppe Land Trust, we asked him why he was motivated to get involved with this project. He told us that the Trust wanted to become more involved with community conservation projects, and the River Vision presented the perfect opportunity to do so.

However, aside from the River Vision, the Trust is involved with many other conservation projects. Typically, the Trust operates with a tool called a conservation land easement. Conservation easements are legal documents that represent a mutual agreement between the landowner and Sagebrush Land Trust of how to conserve the natural and traditional values of the land.

The Sagebrush Land Trust may offer to buy an easement on a piece of land or a land owner may wish to donate it. There are a number of reasons why somebody may choose to establish an easement on their land with the help of the Trust. In many instances, there are tax benefits for creating an easement. Alternatively, an individual may wish to conserve the cultural and environmental assets they possess, and by working with the Trust, they may receive help with land monitoring. Furthermore, easements tend to encourage continued use for agricultural production, grazing, and timber harvesting, and often represent a multiple use area. Public access is not legally required on an easement property but is possible if desirable.

To further investigate the reasons why somebody may pursue an easement, we spoke to Kathy Spiegel, an ISU emeritus Professor of Biology, who is in the process of establishing an easement on her 20-acre property in Marsh Creek, Idaho.

Kathy told us that she believed easements are actually a tool to help protect both Idaho’s environment and its culture. By maintaining natural landscapes, rich in native vegetation, easements can help block developments and maintain traditional land-uses. This ensures that moving forward, developments of things like new housing units, won’t impact wildlife and traditional Idahoan ways of life.

Kathy told us that she was concerned about global environmental challenges, such as climate change, biodiversity loss and land-use change. She explained that by leading by example and establishing a land easement on her property, she hopes that other will follow suit and protect Idaho’s invaluable natural environment.

From our conversations with both Kathy and the Sage Brush Trust, it’s clear that there are many benefits of establishing a conservation easement. Beyond the creation of the legal agreement, the Land Trust helps landowners with the monitoring of their lands to ensure that the conservation goals are achieved.

It’s important to say, that this episode and its implications for local conservation are relevant to everyone. Some people may have a piece of land that they may wish to consider an easement for. But most of us don’t, but this doesn’t mean we are excluded from the conversation.

For some people, they may be in the fortunate position of being able to consider a donation to a group such as the land trust, and for others, they may be able to volunteer their time towards a local conservation project. In fact, the Sage Brush Land Trust often has fun volunteer activities, be it the planting of native vegetation or the monitoring of an easement property.

If you want to find out more about this, I’ve posted some extra information on this story under the Sustainable Idaho Program link on KISU.org.

Thanks to Matt Lucia and Kathy Spiegel this week. Join us next week on Sustainable Idaho where we will explore the sustainable recreation.

Find out more about the Sagebrush Steppe Land Trust on their website - https://sagebrushlandtrust.org/