Lands under conservation easements with the Western Reserve Land Conservancy are monitored regularly by the conservancy. Recently the conservancy stewards walked property owned by Bainbridge Township. A hunting stand was found in a tree on the land that is east of Geauga Lake Road.
The conservancy notified the township. It is all part of the process of overseeing properties with conservation easements, according to Richard Cochran, director of the Western Reserve Land Conservancy with its main office in Moreland Hills.
He said a team of four individuals visit every property under a conservation easement to ensure land stays protected forever. They go out and walk the lands and if there is a problem, they can help resolve it. A conservation easement, agreed to by the land owner, permanently preserves land for conservation purposes.
The conservancy has easements on 800 properties with 56,000 acres and the conservancy itself owns 10,000 acres in Northeast Ohio.
In the land stewards’ routine inspections, they sometimes find situations that must be remedied. In one case, a neighbor built an entire pool house and a portion of the swimming pool on the land under a conservation easement, Mr. Cochran said.
Other less extreme cases have involved dumping yard waste on the land or installing hunting stands in trees. It is usually not the land owner, he said adding, “We have to figure out who it is.
“We monitor conservation easement properties that the conservancy does not own once a year by foot or plane” when the land encompasses more than 3,000 acres, Mr. Cochran said.
“Pilots volunteer to fly their own planes,” Mr. Cochran said. “It’s a wonderful service and very efficient. There is no way someone can walk all those acres.” The conservancy is experimenting with drones.
Aerial monitoring was done for property owned by Bainbridge. The hunting stand found was not a violation of that particular conservation easement, but the land conservancy was not sure if the township knew about it, Mr. Cochran said.
“We’re not opposed to that,” he said. There is an over population of deer and some population control is good. “They eat so much of the understory and flowers that it has become a big problem in certain areas.
“When there is a violation of a conservation easement, we might have to deal with it,” Mr. Cochran said. If someone cuts down 20 trees, that would be something to pursue.
“We monitor farms and if the land changes ownership we conduct an orientation meeting with the new owners and walk the property,” he said. They also check when a neighbor asks them to take a look.
Monitoring property owned by the land conservancy is routine as well. Some of the lands are open to the public and others are private preserves, Mr. Cochran said.
At the Grand Valley Hunting Ranch in Orwell, Ohio the conservancy owns 1,000 acres. “Our staff is there frequently,” he said, as are researchers from Youngstown State University.
For 13 years, Pete McDonald, director of land stewardship with Western Reserve Land Conservancy, has been visiting lands under conservation easements. He and staff members Shane Wolken, George Warnock and Sarah Kilson make the inspections.
Mr. McDonald said conservation is a great asset to the area, preventing erosion of stream banks and preserving open space and natural habitats. Keeping it in a conservation easement has provided a service to the Bainbridge Township environment, he said, referring to land once owned by the Henry family.
Volunteers often assist land stewards, Mr. McDonald said, including pilots.
“We have a lot of large farms planted with soy and wheat and the pilots fly over and look for any major changes, including timber harvesting and roads,” Mr. McDonald said.
The most common violations are trespassers including all-terrain vehicles using the land without permission, he said they disturb wetlands and tear up other natural aspects of the land.
There are sometimes encroachments on the land from neighbors, including mowing, camp sites and even clearing for a garden.
“We can’t go out every day during hunting season to make sure they are not hunting. We’ll let the landowner know and it is their decision. They can let them hunt. If a tree is damaged or trees are cleared that becomes a different issue,” Mr. McDonald said. “We do want neighbors to know the property is protected.”
The conservancy’s goal is to partner with landowners, he added.
“Conservation easement stewardship is about making sure the terms are being upheld and everything the owners agreed to are upheld and neighbors aren’t encroaching,” Mr. McDonald said.
“My staff’s job is keeping good relationships with the landowners, talking to them and understanding their goals and plans,” Mr. McDonald said. “Our mission is to protect natural and agricultural resources of the region and help communities thrive,” he said of people and wildlife.
The conservancy is also working in urban areas. The efforts have included demolishing structures and repurposing the land, creating green space and redeveloping parcels to improve the communities.
“People have misconceptions that we own all the land and there are no rights. We do own some but 90 percent is owned privately or by public entities, such as a township or a park district,” Mr. McDonald said.