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Published: Thursday, 6/14/2007

Black Swamp Conservancy expands protected acreage

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The group has helped owners keep their land in its initial state even after it has been sold or otherwise passed along to future owners

The Perrysburg-based land trust known as the Black Swamp Conservancy has now expanded its reach to more than 5,000 acres of land throughout northwest Ohio and southeastern Michigan.

Nearly all of it is farmland or property in its natural state that is to be kept undeveloped.

Through voluntary agreements known as conservation easements, the nonprofit group has helped property owners in 10 area counties keep their land in its existing state even after it's sold or otherwise passed along to future owners.

State government and conservation leaders have said the Black Swamp Conservancy has an important niche in local land-preservation efforts. It complements work by the Nature Conservancy, one of the nation's oldest and most venerable land trusts. Nature Conservancy is a high-profile international group that tends to focus on land with certain attributes.

Its Ohio chapter is active in preserving land in the Oak Openings region now known as portions of Lucas, Henry, and Fulton counties. Historically, the globally rare Oak Openings - where western prairie grasses met dense eastern forest - had a massive, sandy belt that extended east to Wood County and as far northeast as Michigan's Wayne County.

The Black Swamp Conservancy, established in 1993, is a homespun land trust buoyed largely by voter passage of the Clean Ohio Fund in November, 2000. That fund authorized the state to raise $400 million over four years for land reclamation and preservation projects.

Kevin Joyce, Black Swamp Conservancy executive director, said that surpassing the 5,000-acre mark in May is a new milestone for the group. Its total went up to 5,199 acres of protected land in May, with 520 new acres via conservation easements signed by the owners of two Seneca County farms near Tiffin, a Fulton County farm near Delta, and a Catawba Island Township park near Port Clinton, in Ottawa County, called Cedar Meadow Preserve.

Mr. Joyce said the milestone is "an exciting achievement" for the group and that it "provides a tremendous benefit to people across this region.

"The conservation of open space contributes greatly to our quality of life," he said.

The Black Swamp Conservancy visits each site under a conservation easement at least once a year to ensure terms have not been violated. Documents are filed with the respective county recorder's office.

The conservancy acquired its first easement in December 1997. It passed the 3,000-acre mark in April of 2004 and the 4,000-acre mark in May of 2006.

The land trust said its conserved properties include 2,023 acres in Fulton County, 933 acres in Sandusky County, 1,020 acres in Seneca County, and 679 acres in Wood County. Of the 5,199 acres, it owns 257 acres. The rest is protected by easements that other property owners agreed to sign.

Mr. Joyce said the easements provide enhanced federal income tax incentives.

For more information, see www.blackswamp.org. The group has a Lake Erie Islands chapter. Information at www.blackswamp.org/LEIC.html.

Contact Tom Henry at:

thenry@theblade.com

or 419-724-6079.



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