On a bright winter morning in January GCE brought together landowners and others interested in land conservation with representatives from the Presumpscot Regional Land Trust (PRLT) and the Royal River Conservation Trust (RRCT). Gray does not have its own land trust, so one goal of the meeting was to introduce landowners interested in conservation to the organizations that could help them do this.
Tania Neuschafer, PRLT Executive Director, and Mike Parker (volunteer) represented PRLT. Alan Stearns, Executive Director, represented RRCT. About 30 other Gray residents and landowners were also present at the meeting, which took place upstairs at Pennell. GCE President Anne Gass presided over the meeting.
Another important focus of the meeting was to educate participants about the tools that exist for conserving land. Mike Parker, a volunteer who leads PRLT’s land acquisition efforts, told the group that PRLT sometimes takes ownership of land to preserve in perpetuity. Another strategy is to have landowners grant a “conservation easement” to a land trust, which is recorded on the deed and restricts future development. Landowners are in the driver’s seat when it comes to envisioning- and to some degree dictating- how their lands will be used in the future. As part of their stewardship responsibility land trusts inspect their properties annually to ensure that they are not being developed (or adversely affected by development on their borders).
Mike stressed that while there are financial tools such as tax incentives that can compensate landowners for conserving their land, the primary motivation for doing this ought to be a passion for preserving land to which they have an emotional attachment. Perhaps they want to preserve the old family farm, or fields and streams where they played as children.
RRCT is based in Yarmouth and PRLT has offices in Gorham, but both land trusts are already active in Gray. RRCT is active in protecting the Royal River watershed, and helps manage state-owned lands around the Pineland campus in Gray and New Gloucester. The PRLT is active in the western side of Gray, and seeks to protect land in the Pleasant River watershed.
While GCE owns land on Libby Hill in Gray, and would accept donations of land to benefit its endowment, it was not set up as a land trust. Tania, Mike, and Alan all emphasized that land conservation takes a lot of work, and the commitment is forever, so it makes sense to give that responsibility to organizations that have the expertise to manage it over the long term. Several of the landowners present expressed an interest in speaking further with RRCT or PRLT about conserving their land.