Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Success! 205 Acres of Coastal Habitat Protected -- Forever

This aerial overview depicts major expanses of the ~205 acres now permanently protected at Standing Rush
thanks to the USDA/NRCS' Wetland Reserve Easement (WRE) program; the area directly below the drone totals 
almost exactly 100 acres and is completely protected -- the largely open water expanse just above the center
of the image (above the narrow tree line) is ~75 acres in size and is also fully included in the protection

Late yesterday afternoon, it became official: just over 205 acres (or roughly 155 football fields) -- virtually all of our "East Marsh" and its watery connection to Sandusky Bay -- is now permanently protected wetland habitat through formal acceptance and completed enrollment into the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wetland Reserve Easement (WRE) program. This is a very significant step, a crucial part of the most foundational "pillar" of our project mission: long-term habitat protection and conservation.

While this herculean effort (which started way back in December 2015) culminated in a real estate closing, this is not a land sale. Standing Rush still owns the property; it remains privately held. And we can essentially continue to do most all of the things that we originally set out to do to carry out the mission of our broader project.

However, under this critically important arrangement, we -- or any other individual or entity that owns the easement area moving forward [forever] -- are bound by a perpetual pact with the United States government, specifically the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS, which is managed through the USDA). This legal agreement, known as a conservation easement, essentially forfeits most traditional development rights. So we didn't sell the property, we just sold the legal right to do many of the things that our societal structures traditionally grant us, as landowners, the right to do.

Another vantage point showing habitat now permanently protected by WRE; special thanks to everyone at NRCS
and all the affiliated agencies and collaborators who helped make this day possible -- now we are on to finding
ways to protect the rest of Standing Rush!

By entering into this conservation easement, we forfeit our right to do things like build structures within the easement area, grow cash crops, harvest timber, etc. in exchange for a one-time monetary payment and the promise that our federal government will serve as watch-dog and protector of this unique habitat . . . forever. We also enter into what is called a "compatible use agreement" with the NRCS. It is tied to a living land management plan, so that again, we can continue to advance the stability and ecological function of the property within the confines of the broader easement. We will continue to focus on restoration opportunities within the easement area. Historical recreational uses (e.g., hunting, trapping, fishing, birding, wildlife viewing, etc.) are considered "compatible uses" as long as they are carried out legally and responsibly.

So in many ways, this is an ideal situation for all involved. Standing Rush gets the benefit of a financial infusion to help off-set significant carrying costs and management expenses and is provided the assurance that no matter who owns the property in the future, the natural resources will be protected. The U.S. government secures and protects the diverse and crucially important functions and values of critically scarce wetland habitat at a fraction of the price of buying the property outright, and the legal owners of the property continue to be responsible for its care and maintenance. And the general public gets the broad benefit that the government has secured (e.g., improved water quality, ground water recharge, flood protection, wildlife diversity, etc., etc.), and in some cases, still has access to the protected property.

Permanently Protected

As a bit of an aside, the future of public access on Standing Rush property remains a bit of an unknown -- or at least a to-be-determined. As of now, we plan to continue as we have, inviting targeted groups and individuals on-site to witness and experience the wonder of the coastal wetland environment and to continue to research and learn from every square inch of this incredible natural resource that we have left.