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Published: Thursday, 6/14/2007

Land trust at new high in acreage protection

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

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 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 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 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 surpassing the 5,000-acre mark in May is a new milestone. The group's total went up to 5,199 acres of protected land in May, with 520 new acres via conservation easements signed by 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 "provides a tremendous benefit to people across this region. The conservation of open space contributes greatly to our quality of life."

The conservancy visits each site under a conservation easement at least once a year to ensure terms have not been violated. 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 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. Easements protect the rest.

For more information, see www.blackswamp.org. The group's Lake Erie Islands chapter is at www.blackswamp.org/LEIC.html.

Contact Tom Henry at: thenry@theblade.com or 419-724-6079.



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