Since the non-profit formed in 1989, the land trust has conserved in perpetuity some 4,457 acres of mature forestland, river shoreline and scenic vistas that grace the watershed of the Nisqually River from Mount Rainier National Park downstream to the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge.
Conservation lands grew by 696 acres last year, the second-largest annual gain in property protected by the land trust.
Two of the signature acquisitions last year were completion of the 2,500-acre Mount Rainier Gateway Reserve, which permanently keeps loggers and developers out of these mature forests in the upper watershed near Ashford, and purchase of a 114-acre farm in the Ohop Valley, which will allow the land trust to complete a $5 million Ohop Creek salmon recovery project.
The land trust in 2012 also continued active stewardship of its lands, planting 40,560 native trees and shrubs, aided by 165 volunteers who donated more than 1,000 hours of labor.
About 220 friends and supporters of the land trust gathered Saturday night at the Worthington Center on the Saint Martins University campus in Lacey for the 21st annual Conservation Dinner & Auction to celebrate past and future successes of the land trust. The land trust auction raised a record $81,415, far exceeding the $70,000 goal.
At the event, three land trust partners were honored for extending a helping hand to the land trust: The Willits Family for a bequest of $250,000, the Nisqually Tribes native plant restoration crew for planting 140,000 native trees and shrubs over the years throughout the watershed, and the state Department of Natural Resources for providing $10.8 million in matching funds to help make the Mount Rainier Gateway Reserve a reality.
Land trust executive director Joe Kane alluded to some cutting-edge conservation strategies about to be applied in the Nisqually River Watershed. On Monday, he explained one of these strategies to me in more detail creation of a Nisqually Community Forest.
Simply defined, a community forest would be owned and managed for the benefit of the Nisqually watershed residents. It would be a multi-purpose, self-sustaining forest that would support tourism, timber harvesting, recreation and wildlife habitat.
Presently, more than 100,000 acres thats 25 percent of the watershed is commercial timberland owned by private parties, many with corporate headquarters in other states.
In the next three to seven years, a lot of that land will be for sale, Kane said. We want to be ready as a potential buyer.
To prepare for the marketplace, a planning team representing the land trust, watershed residents, federal and state natural resource agencies and the Nisqually Tribe met over the past 18 months to determine the best ownership model for a community forest. They concluded that the preferred lead entity would be a stand alone subsidiary under the umbrella of the land trust.
Its likely the Nisqually Land Trust board of directors will decide in 2013 whether to approve the community forest ownership plan.
For more information on how this would work, visit www.nisquallycommunityforest.org.
While were on the topic of land trusts, its time Congress made permanent the tax incentive for conservation easements that is set to expire in 2013. Instead of year-to-year reauthorization of the tax break that encourages landowners to preserve their property through sale or donation of conservation easements to land trusts, Congress should show bipartisan support for the Rural Heritage Extension Act of 2013, sponsored by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., and ranking minority committee member Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.
One other note: Habitat restoration projects such as the land trusts work in the Ohop Valley are not just good for salmon and water quality theyre good for the economy, too.
A 2010 study conducted by the University of Oregon showed that each $1 million invested in forest or watershed restoration generates between 14.7 and 23.8 jobs, and more than $2 million for the local economy.
On the bang-for-your-buck measure, environmental restoration is on par with transportation projects and tops renewable energy and building retrofit projects, according to the study.
South Sound residents are fortunate to have so many land trusts think Nisqually Land Trust, Capitol Land Trust and South of the Sound Community Farm Land Trust working with willing property owners to preserve and protect wildlife habitat, working farms and working forests. On Saturday night, more than 200 of those residents expressed their gratitude in 81,415 ways.
John Dodge: 360-754-5444 firstname.lastname@example.org