This fall marked the Conservancy’s fourth year since first acquiring conservation easements on Tejon Ranch. While our legal responsibilities as a land trust are not a flashy topic to most, they are fundamental to who we are and what we do. So we thought we would share a little bit about what that work means to us at the Conservancy, and to all those who care about the Tejon Ranch property.
It turns out that a conservation easement is a complex thing- especially here on a private working ranch with a diversity of longstanding economic uses. A common metaphor we use around here is that owning property is akin to holding a bundle of sticks-- each one represents a different property right; the right to graze cattle, to develop and maintain agriculture or oil infrastructure, the right to build and maintain structures of any kind, the right to alter surface or subterranean water sources, the list goes on and on... A conservation easement is a custom crafted agreement between the property owner and a partnering land trust, where the former deeds (either as a donation or in a purchase agreement) some of these rights to the latter. Because different property rights and natural resources vary between areas, the negotiation between each owner and land trust is unique.
|Illegal public trash dumps like this one observed off of Bena Road in the White Wolf easement are documented every year. The Conservancy and the Ranch Company work collaboratively to clean up areas like this one.|
In short, the process of ensuring easement compliance requires a considerable effort. Why do we take it so seriously? Easement compliance monitoring provides an annual opportunity to observe how the land is being managed and potentially identify land uses that may be contrary to the enhancement of biodiversity and ecosystem function on this extraordinary property. It also provides a regular opportunity for the Conservancy and the Company to closely evaluate our shared responsibilities in managing the natural resources of the Ranch, and how we can collaborate most effectively. You may have read in our fall 2014 newsletter that we recently joined the ranks of land trusts who have been accredited by the national Land Trust Alliance Accreditation Commission. The Conservancy proudly upholds their accreditation standards and practices to ensure the conservation values and thoughful stewardship of the land to which we were entrusted. Further, the conceptual framework for our conservation easements catalyzed the development of our Ranch-wide Management Plan (http://tejonconservancy.org/rwmp.htm), a science-based blueprint for the ecological management of the property that will enhance conservation values on Tejon Ranch over time. For those of you who have visited Tejon Ranch, we think you will agree that those values are worth protecting and ensuring for generations to come!