Easements: The Unsung Hero of Conservation

For Chippewa Watershed Conservancy, nature preserves are our bread and butter. Public preserves are the easiest avenue for us to create connections between our community and the environment.They are the places we host our programs, the landscapes we post pictures of, build trails on and mention in public presentations. However, when we count the acres we protect, public preserves make up just 12% of our total. Those preserves are an extremely important 12%, but what about the other 88% of our acreage?

That land falls under a different category, the privately owned conservation easement. A conservation easement is a voluntary legal agreement between a landowner and a land trust that permanently protects the natural resource value of the land, limits allowed uses of the land in order to protect its conservation values, and allows the landowner to retain private property rights. An easement runs with the land, meaning selling of the land will not remove the easement, it is permanent. Each easement is custom tailored to the land owner’s vision, allowing for different activities according to the contract created between the land owner and the land trust organization. The land owner retains ownership and all property rights other than those falling under restricted uses in the easement contract. Easement land is often used by the property owner for hunting, farming, fishing, foraging, riding recreational vehicles and enjoying solitude.

Sounds great for the owner, but why protect these private lands? Because of the intrinsic value they add to our community. Although we can’t go out and hike the trails on a private easement, we can enjoy it’s contribution to our clean air, clear waters, abundant wildlife and scenic charm. The rural aesthetic of Central Michigan is preserved in these easements, along with thousands of oxygen producing plants, and hundreds of biodiversity preserving animals and insects. These easements contain the wetlands that filter our water, the forests that clean our air, and the fields that produce our local food. They are home to ponds full of minnows and streams full of fish that feed our heron, mink and otter populations. They host the dens of kit foxes and the beds of young does with their fawns. These easements can be seen on our Sunday drives, enhancing the view down the dirt roads. They fill the air with the crisp smell of fall leaves, or the sweet scent of summer greenery. They hold the heritage of a centennial family farm, the memories of a generations old deer camp, the places that bring families and communities together.

So while CWC holds easements on 4,695 acres of land that you may not be able to personally recreate on, that is 4,695 acres that is still greatly enhancing the quality of your life here in Central Michigan