By Marion Blackburn
WILMINGTON, N.C. — Serving as an attorney for the Nature Conservancy showed Camilla Herlevich she really could save the earth after all, or at least a few acres of it.
When she returned to her Wilmington, N.C., home after 11 years with that agency, she started a new group, the North Carolina Coastal Land Trust, dedicated to saving forests, meadows, wetlands and coastal places from unrestricted development.
Since 1992, the nonprofit has helped preserve about 35,000 acres, many of them along waterways and coastal stretches.
And in 1999, its strategy of working in partnership with landowners gave rise to a sister group, the Tar River Land Conservancy.
Together, the two groups have limited or stopped development on more than 41,000 acres through gifts and easements that restrict how land can be used.
“Some of the places that were important to me just weren’t there any more,” says Herlevich, founder and executive director of the Coastal Land Trust. “I realized I had some special skills that I could use to save the land I love.”
The two groups accept donations of land but usually protect it by forming legally binding easements with landowners looking for a way to preserve their family’s heritage and still have some financial benefit from the land.
The landowners agree to keep the land in its natural condition without extensive disturbance, and the land trust can enforce the easement and monitor the property.
“When we first started, our projects were more as gifts when people came to us,” Herlevich says. “Now we identify certain areas as priorities, meet with landowners and try to get conservation on certain tracks. That way we have large watershed areas that are protected.
“The financial incentive is that you can, through tax benefits, capture some of the appreciation in land value without having to sell it.”
On May 20, the Coastal Land Trust celebrated the opening of Springer’s Point Preserve, a 120-acre maritime forest in Ocracoke.
The land was purchased with $4 million in grants from the North Carolina Clean Water Trust Fund.
The land trust also raised $132,000 to establish the preserve.
The Tar River Land Conservancy in Louisburg has preserved about 6,100 acres from unrestricted development.
It focuses on the eight-county area that is home to the Tar River, which begins in Franklin County and enters the sea as the brackish Pamlico River near Little Washington.
The upper Tar River has natural and cultural resources that are virtually untouched by urban development, says Cynthia Satterfield, director of development and outreach for the Tar River Land Conservancy.
“The Tar River is considered one of the most pristine waterways in eastern North America,” she says. “It is home to 16 threatened and endangered species that are still surviving. The largely agricultural land is the reason they are surviving.”
The Tar River Land Conservancy hopes to protect about 10,000 more acres in the next five years.
The Tar River basin and its tributaries are also served by the Pamlico-Tar River Foundation, which helps monitor water quality, run-off and pollution.