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Trust works to boost land conservation

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Todd Cohen

RALEIGH, N.C. — Their efforts to build affordable housing stymied by concerns about its potential impact on nearby water or wetlands, six local community development corporations in the state now are developing site plans with the assistance of the Conservation Trust for North Carolina.

That initiative, a partnership with the N.C. Community Development Initiative, reflects the Raleigh-based Conservation Trust’s continuing strategy of looking for new ways to speed the pace and ensure the quality of land conservation throughout the state.

“Land conservation has a lot to do with water quality,” says Reid Wilson, the group’s executive director.

Formed in 1991, the Conservation Trust plays dual roles, conserving land itself while providing support services for 23 local land trusts in the state, including Triangle Land Conservancy, the Eno River Association and the Triangle Greenways Council.

Operating with an annual budget of $1.2 million and a staff of 13 people, the Conservation Trust has preserved over 30,000 acres, mainly along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Overall, the Conservation Trust and the local land trusts it serves have protected roughly 285,000 acres, including 29,000 they protected in 2007.

Aiming to help local land trusts preserve more land, the Conservation Trust provides services that range from advocacy and managing grants to promoting public awareness and managing a revolving loan fund used to preserve land in the mountains of Western North Carolina.

As an advocate, the Conservation Trust works with the state legislature and Congress to secure more funds for conservation and greater tax incentives for landowners who protect their land.

The organization, for example, is an active supporter of an effort to place on the ballot a referendum calling for $1 billion in state spending for conservation.

In its financial role, the Conservation Trust coordinates and manages roughly $2.5 million in local, state, federal and private grants and contracts for local land trusts.

The statewide group, for example, has managed a series of contracts, worth $2 million, with the city of Raleigh and four local land trusts designed to protect land in the Upper Neuse River Basin along waterways that flow into Falls Lake and eight other water-supply reservoirs.

It also has received a $200,000 grant from the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation in Winston-Salem to link land trusts and minority landowners throughout the state and give them greater access to information about options for conserving land and securing cash payments or tax benefits in return.

The Conservation Trust also has hired Margaret Lillard, a former Associated Press reporter, as its first full-time communications director, and she will be working with local land trusts and looking for ways to generate more media attention, Wilson says.

In Western North Carolina, the Conservation Trust manages a $4.2 million revolving-loan fund, most of it contributed by a Salisbury couple, that makes grants to local
land trusts in the mountains so they can protect property, and then seek state funds to reimburse the loan fund.

Conserving land is critical to protecting water quantity and quality, and wildlife habitat and recreation areas, all of which are critical for economic development, Wilson
says.

And with the continuing drought, he says, the Conservation Trust is working to raise awareness about the link between land conservation ad water quantity.

“If we protect more land now and maintain more natural water systems throughout the state,” he says,” that will help provide more plentiful water supplies down the road.”

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