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Published: Thursday, 6/14/2007

Nature group extends protection

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The Perrysburg-based land trust known as the Black Swamp Conservancy has expanded its reach to more than 5,000 acres 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 subsequent 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.

The Nature Conservancy, formed in the 1950s, is a high-profile international group that tends to focus on land with certain attributes.

The Nature Conservancy has an Ohio chapter active in preserving land in the Oak Openings region in portions of Lucas, Henry, and Fulton counties.

Historically, the 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 milestone for the group.

The group's land 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 it has put under a conservation easement at least once a year to make sure terms have not been violated.

The documents are on file 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, 2004, and the 4,000-acre mark in May, 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, the conservancy 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 also has a Lake Erie Islands chapter, with information at www.blackswamp.org/LEIC.html.

Contact Tom Henry at:

thenry@theblade.com

or 419-724-6079.



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