LSLT Scores Conservation Monitoring Grant

SNOW HILL – A $15,000 grant is expected to help a local nonprofit implement a pilot program for conservation monitoring.

Late last week, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources announced the Maryland Environmental Trust (MET) and Lower Shore Land Trust (LSLT) were jointly awarded grant funding from the Land Trust Alliance and The Nature Conservancy-California to pilot a conservation easement monitoring program using state-of-the-art technology.

Jared Parks, LSLT land programs manager, said the grant funding will allow the local nonprofit to use new technology and satellite imagery to monitor its land conservation easements and access hard-to-reach properties during site evaluations.

“It’s a first-time grant that’s been awarded to look at expanding the use of technology for land trusts in a bunch of different capacities, but primarily to be used as a tool for our stewardship program,” he said.

Together, LSLT and MET will use satellite imagery to monitor 70,900 acres in the Chesapeake watershed this year. If the pilot project is successful, MET will work with other local land trusts in the state to adopt the technology. At the end of the grant period in spring 2022, LSLT and MET will make a joint presentation of their findings at an upcoming MET Land Trust Roundtable.

Parks said LSLT will work with the California-based company Upstream Tech to use a new aerial imagery program called Lens. That program, he said, will allow the nonprofit to compare past and current images of a property and detect any changes in forestry or boundaries, for example.

“It’s not just a stewardship tool but a tool to be used for management of property as well. It also allows us to look at if there are restoration opportunities on these properties …,” he said. “There’s some great possibilities with its use.”

Simply put, the pilot program uses high-definition aerial and satellite imagery that may provide a new tool for visiting hard to reach properties over time and completing site evaluations in much less time than traditional “boots-on-the-ground” monitoring visits.

“We have to monitor properties every year that are under conservation easement as part of our accreditation …,” Parks said. “We have a growing portfolio, which is a good thing, but it also creates more burden when we go out every year. It takes more staff time and more resources.”

Parks said LSLT will begin its pilot program later this year. He noted once the nonprofit has a better idea of what the technology can do and what landowners think, it can be incorporated into the stewardship program.

“We have to figure out if it makes sense to fully adopt this program and what its best uses are,” he said. “We are actually going to look at our properties, see what we can see, and compare that to our ground visits – how long did it take, what did we save by not traveling and staff time.”

Officials say they are hopeful the program can be useful without losing personal contact with the landowners.

“We are excited to be part of this project and we are grateful for the partnership with MET and the investment from the Land Trust Alliance and The Nature Conservancy,” said LSLT Executive Director Kate Patton. “Nothing can replace the regular conversations and personal contact with property owners, but we’re hopeful that this technology will provide staff with the resources to focus on new conservation projects.”

LSLT is a local nonprofit land trust that serves Somerset, Wicomico, and Worcester counties on the Lower Eastern Shore of Maryland. MET, a unit of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, is Maryland’s statewide land trust.

Both organizations work with landowners to protect rural lands with conservation easements by permanently restricting development and some commercial land uses, and hold large easement portfolios protecting Maryland’s farms, forests and natural resources for current and future generations. LSLT looks after more than 23,400 acres while MET cares for nearly 140,000 acres.

LSLT is an accredited land trust with the Land Trust Alliance and monitors all its easements annually and MET works with its partners statewide to monitor and steward co-held easement properties to ensure the terms of the easement are upheld.

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.