With over 5,000 acres of land lost to development
everyday in the United States,
conservationists have had to join hands and work together. In West
Virginia the Coalition of Land Trusts meets a few
times a year to share best practices.
Sarah Vintorini is the marketing and research manager for
one such group know as the West Virginia Land Trust.
“It really takes a bigger vision to make it the most
effective,” Vintorini explains, “because having a plan and being able to see
lands protected that will join other protected land or connect a greater green
space together is ultimately the most effective form of conservation.”
Established in 1995, the West Virginia Land Trust is a private
nonprofit organization that is dedicated to protecting the “wild and wonderful”
parts of West Virginia, forever.
They do this primarily through the use of conservation
“Every property that the West Virginia Land Trust has a
conservation easement on is monitored yearly by our originations professional
staff or expert consultants,” says Vintorini.
“These individuals oversee the
properties and then they report any concerns if the property had some dramatic
changes that were out side of the scope of the easement or a different owner
had taking over that property and maybe they were not so compliant with
easement. Then our organization would be responsible to enforce those
restrictions of the easement and try to resolve any issues that may arise. And
this is done in perpetuity.
“Our origination is committed to the land that we hold
easements on forever as you can imagine is a very big responsibility.”
The easement and the restrictions that are placed upon properties
are not fashioned by the land trust. Though the restrictions have to fit within
certain guidelines, it’s the land owner that voluntarily sets the restrictions
of their choice.
“People rarely go into a legal negotiation where they are more
in control of the out come,” Vintorini says.
“It’s important for individuals to
have power over their own land. I think that in every state, but especially in
our beautiful mountain state, land is personal to us. It’s more than trees and
farm land—it’s memories; it’s a promise to our future; it’s our heritage. For
folks to be able to gain control of that and be able to help plan and have a
voice in its future use, I think is very important.
“One property that we are working on right now is a
beautiful family farm that’s been in this particular family’s possession since West
Virginia was founded. This particular person did not
have any children of their own, and could not bare the thought of this
beautiful piece of history in our state to be subdivided and sold out. So
working with West Virginia Land Trust they have developed the language of an
easement that fulfills her, and ultimately her entire family’s vision for this
“To know that we are going to be a part of sharing this
breath taking piece of property and rich piece of history with future
generations is incredibly fulfilling,” says Vintorini.
The trust has funding that sometimes enables them to buy an
easement from a property owner, or help offset some the expenses associated with closing an easement, whether it be title
searches, appraisals, or surveys.
In some cases they even buy the land or accept donated land—all
with the land owner’s personal idea of conservation in mind.
“We have a non-confrontational, cooperative approach to land
conservation. We do not target industries. We are not anti-development. That is
not who we are or what we do.”
“We see ourselves in a bigger picture in that some lands are
special and they need to be protected and saved. There is a time and a place
for development and there is a time and a place for preservation,” Vintorini says.
“There is study after study that outlines the economic and
tax base benefits of land conservations. It has been proven that open space
really reduces the tax burden on residents and open space ultimately improves
"It truly can be an attraction to businesses. Some the savviest
businesses throughout the country want to establish themselves in a community where
there is green space, where there is a community of outdoors, where their
employees can live in a healthy environment. That’s something that should not
be devalued or overlooked.”
The trust has conserved over 5000 acres in West
Virginia since 1995. Their current goal: 20,000 acres
in five years in various watershed communities throughout the state.
The Trust was recently awarded funds to identify and
preserve lands with high conservation values in the Coal, Elk, and Gauley
watersheds. They’re developing partnerships with local organizations that have
similar interests so that jointly, they can reach out to educate communities
and work to conserve land.