Gary and Tina Johnson worried that their 23 forested acres on Blackwell Hill overlooking Coeur d’Alene could someday be overrun with development.
In North Spokane County, Alfred and Cathy Anderson wanted to protect their 76 acres of forest and farmland from developers as well.
Both couples turned to the Inland Northwest Land Trust, a nonprofit organization that’s been working to preserve native habitat in the region for the past 16 years.
In that time, the land trust has obtained 27 easements from private landowners to preserve nearly 2,700 acres of land. More easements are expected in the next few months. In addition, the land trust has worked with other agencies to protect another 5,300 acres of habitat through parks and conservation programs. Much of the focus of the land trust is to provide protection along shorelines and riparian areas where wildlife is most abundant, or along forested corridors used for migration by large game such as elk.
“The pressures for development are very intense in a place like this,” said Betsy Jewett, a founding member of INLT, which currently has about 400 members and a five-person staff working out of the Community Building in downtown Spokane. Jewett said organizations such as INLT are found throughout the country and are important players in habitat preservation.
The organization acts as a legal partner for private landowners who want to preserve their land in its natural state. In exchange for easements, INLT provides ongoing protection for the land. Heirs or future owners would be unable to develop or subdivide the properties beyond terms of the easements. Federal tax benefits are available for the value of the easement.
The Johnsons and Andersons this year granted easements to the land trust in legal agreements to preserve their slices of nature.
“We like it the way it is,” said Gary Johnson, who lives near Upriver Drive just 10 minutes southwest of Coeur d’Alene. “There are lots of deer, elk and moose, even bear up here.”
Johnson and his wife moved to the Coeur d’Alene area in 1985 so they could enjoy the natural beauty of the region. They call their preserve the Chocolate Bear Easement. In recent years, developers have been pushing projects closer to their home on the south side of the Spokane River.
The Johnsons learned about conservation easements from their neighbors, Wes and Gertie Hanson, who granted an easement 10 years ago through INLT for their 158 acres of forested habitat known as Carder farm, which is home to flying squirrel and snowshoe hare along with large mammals. The Hansons have been encouraging surrounding landowners to protect the forest near Cougar Bay on Lake Coeur d’Alene.
Landowners may spend months negotiating with the land trust on their easements, which specify what types of human activity can be allowed on the property. Some easements might allow an additional house. Other easements may limit development to only the replacement of an existing dwelling. The land trust also seeks forest-management plans to define how timber can be harvested.
Nearly 60 acres of the Andersons’ property on North Bernhill Road is covered with Douglas fir and pine. Their easement allows future harvests to maintain the forest and provide some income.
Cathy Anderson’s great-grandmother, Susan Camp, purchased 40 acres of the property in 1915 from the Bernhill family, after whom Bernhill Road was named. The family farmed a portion of the property. Cathy Anderson’s grandparents in 1954 built a home near the original farm house, which has since been torn down. They acquired the property from an uncle, Roland Greening, in 1996.
Because of the long family history, the property has a strong emotional bond for the Andersons.
Cathy Anderson said her ancestors would approve of the decision to place an easement on the property. “I think they would be pleased,” she said.
Like the Johnsons, the Andersons are concerned about residential sprawl that’s moving northward from Spokane. In recent years, developers have been seeking land-use changes to develop large parcels in the neighborhood. The Andersons recently bought 21 acres across Bernhill Road as part of their effort to preserve the landscape.
Because of the easement, “There is a very good chance this will remain an open space or something like it for a very long time,” Alfred Anderson said.
Similar easements have been granted across the region. Here are some others:
•The Turner farm with 210 acres on a small lake in Stevens County came under an easement in 1993 from Lollie Turner, who used the forest and farm acreage for income.
■John and Vickie Hershey granted a 146-acre easement in 2000 along Owens Lake in the Little Spokane River watershed near the county-owned Bear Lake Park.
■In 2001, the Chambers family of North Idaho gave an easement for 43 acres of land on the Pack River north of Sandpoint.
■The Bella Ridge area near Post Falls is protected under a 2004 easement.
■Nicky Pleass is protecting 188 acres on Greenhorn Mountain near Sandpoint from development under a 2007 easement. She also has donated land for the Mickinnick Trail.
“What we’ve found is people do it because they love the land,” said Chris DeForest, executive director of INLT.
The Land Trust also has worked to preserve habitat through Spokane County’s Conservation Futures Program, Kootenai County, Bureau of Land Management, Washington state parks, Ducks Unlimited, Washington Department of Natural Resources, the Dishman Hills Natural Area Association, Audubon Society and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.