Land Trust, State Partner On Conservation Easement

BERLIN – Officials with the Lower Shore Land Trust recently announced the completion of a decade-long conservation easement project between the non-profit and the Maryland Environmental Trust that will permanently protect more than 150 acres and a mile of waterfront property in Somerset County.

Kate Patton, executive director for the Lower Shore Land Trust, said the established conservation easement located along Big Annemessex River will safeguard surrounding marshland, forests and waterways as well as animals that utilize the acreage as a dwelling.

“Conservation easements are a great tool for protecting wildlife and water quality, important benefits for the region, while allowing the property to remain in private hands,” she said.

Discussions to establish a permanent conservation easement began 10 years ago, when property owners Randy and Bobbie Stadler, a retired wildlife rehabilitator, expressed interest in protecting their land from future development.

“They always had the desire to protect their property with a land easement,” Patton said, but agreements between the couple and the Land Trust stalled in the beginning stages.

“It takes a long time,” she said. “Sometimes the projects take a long time for a lot of reasons. The intent may be there, but the timing may not be right.”

When conversations reconvened, Patton said the property owners chose to participate in a Donated Easement Program that allowed the couple to establish certain conservation goals and receive certain tax credits. In return, current and future land owners are expected to accept the terms of the conservation agreement.

The Stadlers will retain property ownership rights of the land and the two building located on site – a historic home and a small accessory cottage – according to Patton. But the easement restricts any further development on the remaining acreage.

The location of the acreage plays a key role for farmers, migratory birds and the tourism industry. By protecting the land, Patton says the residents are protecting the Eastern Shore’s economy and resources.

“Generally what we work to do is limit some of the development that fragments lands and resources,” she said. “Rural lands are important for resource-based industries. By conserving and limiting development in rural areas, we are working to promote public benefits our natural resources provide.”

Not every landowner is a strong candidate for the non-profit’s easement program, Patton said, and the value of the donation must meet standards set by the non-profit, state and Internal Revenue Service.

“We get a lot of interest,” she said. “But we do specific targeting for areas we are interested in protecting.”

Between 20 and 30 landowners contact the Land Trust each year to inquire about the easement program, but Patton said only three to five projects are completed each year.

In a statement, Randy Stadler said he is happy to finish the process they started in 2007.

“When we got the final packet of documents, there was a sign included,” he said. “It says, ‘This land is protected forever’ … That sign represents the culmination of everyone’s work to make this happen. It also made us realize we truly had done our part to protect an area we both love.”

Patton added that the natural beauty of the preserved land gets many tourists to visit the area each year for outdoor recreational activities like kayaking, fishing and bird watching.

“If we take that away, we are going to limit the interest in the area,” she said. “I think it’s a very important issue. We have a very dependent economy on tourism and agriculture. So when we reduce habitats for wildlife, we limit what is available to us for recreational use.”

The deed of easement that now goes with the private property will be upheld by the Land Trust, Patton said, but will still benefit the county’s economy.

“It keeps the land in private management so we can benefit from the conservation goals,” she said. “But it’s not taking the properties off the tax records in the counties.”

The Lower Shore Land Trust is a non-profit organization that works with property owners on the Eastern Shore to conserve rural areas. The Maryland Environmental Trust, a division of the Department of Natural Resources, partners with the non-profit to provide landowners pursuing conservation easements with assistance.

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.