Stewardship Policy (Fee Property)

 

1.  INTRODUCTION AND GUIDING PHILOSOPHY

The Westmoreland Land Trust (“WLT” or “Land Trust”) intends that its fee property stewardship policy conform to all requirements of law, the Land Trust Alliance Standards and Practices, and all WLT policies. The purpose of this document is to memorialize the Land Trust’s policies for fee property stewardship and guide related WLT practices.

The management and stewardship of WLT fee-owned properties will be guided by two principles: what is ecologically appropriate and what is feasible given the human and financial resources available. Management implies an explicit plan to restore, maintain or move toward a particular desired goal. It is the goal of Land Trust to protect the natural resources, rural character and scenic beauty of the Westmoreland County area and to provide land, water, cultural, recreational, and historic resources that will be safe and accessible. This will be the goal of our fee land stewardship program.

One cannot specify all practices that might be appropriate or inappropriate on WLT properties in the future. The following provides basic guidance on current issues that lay the groundwork for this newly established organization to move forward with the long-term stewardship of its properties. This document should be viewed as evolving and will be updated and revised as is necessary.

 

2.  MANAGEMENT PLANS

It is the policy of the Land Trust to develop a Land Management Plan or Management Summary for each property it holds in fee simple ownership. At the time of acquisition and periodically thereafter (as described in the management plan), each property will be inventoried and assessed as to its most appropriate use or conservation value and then managed accordingly. The inventory will identify the preserve’s natural communities and natural features, noting in particular unique elements that the WLT wishes to protect. Cultural, historic, and recreational features will also be inventoried.

Management plans may take many forms, ranging from “let nature take its course” non-interference, to active intervention. When possible, our management practices will be non-intrusive, and will mimic natural processes that have been suspended or altered by human activity.

At a minimum, each plan will include:

  • A description of the property (size, location, etc.)
  • A description of the conservation values or attributes
  • A summary of any restrictions that came with the property or were placed on the property after the Land Trust took ownership
  • A description of the potential threats to the conservation values or areas of special concern (i.e. invasive species, neighbor encroachment, unauthorized access)
  • Overall management goals and key actions
  • A timeline for planned activities and for regular monitoring of the property.

Management plans will be reviewed every two to five years to determine if goals and objectives are still applicable and to update action items as they are completed.

 

3.  MONITORING

All Land Trust property will be actively and regularly monitored to evaluate the condition of property boundaries, buildings and improvements, the success/failure of management efforts and the overall health of the natural environment and safety of visitors. Regular monitoring helps to prevent misuse of the land and its resources and minimize risk to the organization. Each fee-owned property will be monitored at least annually, and each monitoring visit will be documented using a WLT monitoring report.

 

4.  MANAGEMENT PRACTICES

One cannot specify all practices that might be appropriate in the future. In lieu of such a comprehensive statement, the following active management practices may be used in the future to promote diversity, stability, and beauty and to address human health and safety, risk assessments and cultural/historic/recreational asset management.

  • Removing exotics plants and animals in accordance with integrated pest management practices, avoiding use of herbicides whenever possible.
  • Mowing and manipulating to maintain certain vegetation types, such as fields and grasslands, to augment (as appropriate) species that may appear naturally in a particular habitat.
  • Allowing hunting and trapping as a management tool to control destructive wildlife.
  • Establishing and maintaining parking, trails, bridges, and boardwalks for public access.
  • Monitoring indices of habitat quality, e.g., water quality and species diversity.
  • Preparing and periodically updating species lists and descriptive brochures for the preserves.

 

5.  DOCUMENTATION

All monitoring and management activity will be documented on report forms. These reports, as well as management plans, correspondence, maps and all property records will be filed at the Westmoreland Conservation District Office.

Duplicates of these documents will be kept off-site so as to provide a back-up.  All original documents and electronic duplicate files for each property will be kept off-site at a secure (from flooding and fire) location.

 

6.  STRUCTURES AND IMPROVEMENTS

If WLT properties host structures and improvements (trails, benches, bridges, parking lots, etc.), the Land Trust will make every reasonable effort to manage and maintain these resources to minimize risk to the visitor and liability to the organization. Such resources will be monitored for safety on an annual basis (or more frequently if necessary). These monitoring visits will be documented. If structures do not have a programmatic use, WLT’s policy shall be to address this condition as follows (on a case-by-case basis):

a. Find an organization or individual that would use and maintain the structures, if they are compatible with WLT long-range objectives, or

b. Remove the structures, or

c. Subdivide the property, with sensitivity to its natural (streams, shoreline) or cultural (stonewalls, roads) features where possible, and sell the parcel containing the structures.

d. Sell the property.

 

7.  Signs and Parking
Boundary signs: Each preserve will have its boundary marked with WLT signage. We will make this activity a high priority because encroachment from adjoining private property owners and misuse of any natural communities, features, or species is more likely to occur if boundaries are not located and marked. The boundary marking will be monitored and maintained at least annually.

Entrance signs: For those preserves where we wish to encourage broad public use, a large entrance sign will be put in place. In cases where the property is acquired with funding that stipulates recognition of the funding source on a sign (e.g., DCNR funding), that recognition will be incorporated in the entrance sign for the property.

Parking: Parking areas may be provided at the properties most suitable for public use, but will be constructed with the least amount of environmental impact possible.

 

8. PERMITTED and RESTRICTED USES

WLT views public access as one of the many public benefits of its land and water protection work and as such will permit the broadest access to the property possible without jeopardizing the conservation values for which a property is protected.

Note: The public is advised that entry upon any property shall be at their own risk and that use is governed by the Land Management Plan for WLT properties.

WLT embraces the principles of Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics (www.lnt.org). The following are some general practices, modeled on the LNT principles, that apply to all WLT properties. Visitors will be encouraged to practice the following and this information may be included on signage, brochures and/or on the organizations website.

  • Pack it in, pack it out. Inspect your areas of visitation for trash or spilled foods. Pack out all trash, leftover food, and litter even if it’s not yours.
  • Preserve the past. Examine, but do not touch, cultural or historic structures and artifacts.
  • Leave rocks, plants and other natural objects as you find them.
  • Avoid introducing or transporting non-native species.
  • Do not build structures or furniture, and do not dig trenches.
  • Observe wildlife from a distance. Do not follow or approach them. Never feed animals. Feeding wildlife damages their health, alters natural behaviors, and exposes them to predators and other dangers.
  • Protect wildlife and your food by storing rations and trash securely.
  • Control pets at all times, or leave them at home.
  • Avoid wildlife during sensitive times: mating, nesting, raising young, and winter.
  • Respect other visitors and protect the quality of their experience. Be courteous. Yield to other users on the trail.
  • Let nature’s sounds prevail. Avoid loud noises.

The types of permitted uses will be addressed in each property’s management plan and will be based on the requirements needed to meet the plan’s management objectives and not jeopardize the conservation values and public benefit of the site. Generally, passive recreation, which includes hiking, observing nature, and other similar natural pursuits, is encouraged on WLT properties. The following guidance is provided on uses outside those cited above.

Snow-shoeing and cross-country skiing. These activities are all encouraged on WLT properties. Visitors are encouraged to remain on trails when possible and to wear fluorescent orange during hunting season.

WLT views snow-shoeing and cross-country skiing as low-impact, passive uses on its properties and will encourage them as a means to enjoy, understand, appreciate and learn to be good stewards of the natural resources.

Education: WLT encourages the use of its properties for educational purposes that promote environmental awareness.

Recreational Trails: Trails may be constructed on WLT property with the development of an appropriate trail plan that is reviewed and approved by the WLT.

The Land Trust may limit the size of groups using our property if, due to the physical characteristics of the property (soils, slopes, sensitive wildlife), it is determined that damage may result from large-group use.

Geocaching: Geochaching is permitted on WLT properties by approval only. WLT believes that geochaching can be a unique way to enjoy nature while using new technology to explore the landscape. Traveling off trail and disturbing vegetation and/or geologic formations and soil are sometimes necessary to find a cache. This activity may be in direct conflict with the Land Trust’s desire to protect conservation or cultural values of a site and so permission to geocache is on a case – by – case basis.

Research: WLT encourages appropriate research to further our knowledge of species and natural communities on our properties. Any party interested in conducting appropriate research on WLT properties should submit a proposal to the WLT for consideration.

Dogs: Dogs are permitted on WLT property unless otherwise posted. Where dogs are permitted, all dogs must be leashed and under the control of the owner at all times. Owners are required to pack out pet waste.

WLT recognizes that dogs provide a sense of security and protection for property users. However, dogs can be injurious to wildlife that is a conservation value of the Land Trust. Dogs can also infringe on the activities and enjoyment of other visitors so they must be under control at all times.

Plant, Wildlife, Mineral, and Historical/Cultural Resource Collecting: The collection of plants, wildlife, minerals, and historical/cultural artifacts from WLT property by the public is not permitted.

Introduction of exotic plants and animals is prohibited. Introduction of native plants and animals is by permission only and on a case-by-case basis. Scientific collection of plants, animals, prehistoric artifacts, and other inorganic materials is by written approval of the WLT only. Specimens must be deposited in a public depository such as a museum or other academic institution.

WLT believes removal of natural materials can lead to damage in a variety of ways and that our lands and waters are primarily intended to retain as much of their natural qualities as possible. We recognize that there are times when scientific collection is a valuable tool to further understand land and waters and their ecological functions. We will grant written permission for collection that furthers our understanding of the land and waters that will be properly cared for, and made available to the overall scientific community.  Redundant collections may be required. This information will be made available to WLT to aid in its further understanding of the resources under its management and care.

Hunting and Trapping: Hunting and trapping may be permitted on WLT property as a natural resource management tool and/or as determined by the management plan for a specific property. All hunting must be in accordance with Pennsylvania Game Law and local ordinances. Tree stands can be used, but only if they are designed to have no impact to trees and are removed after each use.

Use of Firearms: The use of firearms is prohibited on WLT property, except as part of an approved hunt to manage wildlife.

Fishing: Fishing, consistent with state law, is permitted on WLT property unless noted otherwise in the management plan for a specific property.

WLT believes that fishing is a wholesome activity and should be permitted on Land Trust properties as long as fishermen (-women) are responsible.

Camping: Camping is not permitted on WLT property, unless specified in the management plan for a specific property. Special exceptions may be made in writing by the WLT.

Campfires: Campfires are not permitted on WLT properties.

Horses: Horseback riding is not permitted on WLT properties unless deemed appropriate in the management plan for a specific property.

WLT believes that while horseback riding can bring individuals closer to natural land, riding on unhardened trails can have damaging environmental effects. It can also create trail conditions that are unsuitable for other, more passive, users.

Mountain Bikes: Mountain bikes are not permitted on WLT properties unless deemed appropriate in the management plan for a specific property.

Snowmobiles: The use of snowmobiles on WLT property is prohibited, except under certain circumstances such as a medical emergency or property maintenance by WLT.

All-Terrain Vehicles, Dirt Bikes, and Four-Wheel Drive Vehicles: The use of all-terrain vehicles, dirt bikes and four-wheel drive vehicles is prohibited, except under certain circumstances such as medical emergency or property maintenance by WLT.

Invasive Species: Invasive species are organisms that are not native to the natural ecosystems of western Pennsylvania and, as such, become problematic and threaten the survival of native species. Any species that is not native to the ecosystems for which WLT is managing is not permitted on Land Trust properties and will be removed.

Dumping: Dumping of any materials, including private household waste, landscaping materials and municipal waste, is strictly prohibited on WLT properties.

Dumping of materials creates a health and human safety liability, and threatens natural resources.

 

9.  MANAGEMENT AND STEWARDSHIP FUNDING

The Land Trust will request that donors of fee properties also make a monetary contribution to the Westmoreland Land Trust to pay for expenses related to the property conveyance and to cover required monitoring and management expenses of the fee property, as outlined in this document. Funds contributed will be added to the Board directed “Stewardship Fund.”   In addition to requesting a donation to the Stewardship Fund, WLT will identify sources of funding to support the long-term protection of its properties.          

 

10.  PROPERTY TAXES

As a 501(c)3 tax-exempt organization, WLT will seek exemption on all of its fee properties. In some cases, the organization may make a contribution, in lieu of taxes, to the local community or municipality.

 

Adopted by the Westmoreland Land Trust Board of Directors on June 18, 2010.

 

 

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This document was largely developed with guidance from the following organizations whose templates were used as a basis for this document:

Land Trust Alliance

Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests

Hudson Highlands Land Trust

Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy

Western Pennsylvania Conservancy.