These days whenever Kathleen Foley thinks about perpetuity, she also thinks about climate change. As stewardship manager at the accredited San Juan Preservation Trust in Washington State, she senses, as perhaps only an island dweller can, the quickening pace of global warming. “We have to be thinking about what the climate models are telling us,” she says. “Locally, we talk about how we as island citizens can prepare, but it’s a really new conversation for our organization.” In a general sense — in the sense of perpetuity — it should be on every land trust’s radar.
The oldest land trust in Washington, the Preservation Trust has permanently protected more than 260 properties on a chain of 20 islands throughout the San Juan archipelago. Director of Stewardship Dean Dougherty says the organization is putting increased emphasis on improving relationships and communications with landowners, connecting regularly with them by phone and mail. At least once each year, he and Kathleen make their way by ferry, water taxi or even kayak to every protected parcel for a monitoring visit.
“We encourage landowners to participate and learn the natural history of their property,” says Kathleen. “If it needs restoration or noxious weed eradication, we can bring in a fleet of volunteers to help. We want to show we’re being good partners.” And they want to be certain the owners understand that conservation agreements are forever.
Faced recently with a timber trespassing violation on one of its preserves, the Preservation Trust turned to Terrafirma Risk Retention Group LLC to manage the legal process. “A set of procedures is in place to tackle what to do,” says Dean. “First is our Conservation Easement Violation Policy, which we also follow for preserve violations. We’ve dealt with similar situations in the past and know the measures to follow in case it turns into a legal issue. It’s unfortunate that these incursions have happened more than once; it would be more unfortunate if we hadn’t learned from the process.”
The stewardship team agrees that the concept of permanence, of perpetuity, can be difficult to define. “As an organization we can promise to stay ethical, solvent, able to function,” Kathleen says. “As long as we’re around, we’ll hold these lands in trust. But if we’re not looking at the bigger picture — the bigger environmental issues — ultimately it’s Mother Nature who will tell us if we’re making the right decisions. All the citizens of the world are going to have to lock hands on this.”