In what is likely to become a more common model for land conservation across the U.S., Sempervirens Fund recently purchased conservation easements on two redwood properties in the Santa Cruz Mountains, both owned by the Girl Scouts of Northern California. The purchase of these easements will both permanently protect the important natural resources on the properties and provide much needed income to the Girl Scouts to keep these two camps operating.
A conservation easement is a valuable tool for land conservation groups. It is a legal agreement between a landowner and a land trust or government agency that permanently limits uses of land in order to protect its conservation values. It allows landowners to maintain ownership and use of their land and to sell or pass it on to heirs if they choose to do so. Even if ownership of the land changes, however, the easement remains in place, assuring that the resources on the land are protected in perpetuity.
Camp Butano Creek (142 acres) and Skylark Ranch (270 acres) are Girl Scout camps in the Santa Cruz Mountains that are nestled among redwoods and used year round to provide outdoor learning opportunities for girls and young women from across the Bay Area and beyond (map). The properties include cabins, fire circles, dining halls, and miles of hiking trails that weave through stunning coast redwood forests. The properties also include more than 1,400 old-growth trees, water resources, and critical habitat for the endangered central coast steelhead and marbled murrelet. But the camps, which have been in use since the 1950’s, are showing their age. In fact, the facilities on both properties are in need of immediate repairs and maintenance so costly that the Girl Scouts were considering shutting down the two camps and selling their properties, both of which are zoned for commercial timber harvest and residential development.
Sempervirens Fund provided the Girl Scouts with a better option: we purchased conservation easements that strip the properties of their development and timber harvest rights, ensuring permanent protection of their forests and other natural resources while allowing the Girl Scouts to retain ownership of the land, fund upgrades and maintenance of camp facilities, and continue camp operations. The purchase price of the easements, $2.86 million, will provide income needed to keep the camps operating well into the future. Partial funding for this project came from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and was provided through Resource Legacy Fund’s Living Landscape Initiative Challenge Grant Program.
Protection of the redwood forests on these properties also helps to further Sempervirens Fund’s efforts to connect protected landscapes and create one Great Park in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Camp Butano Creek borders Butano State Park and Skylark Ranch borders Año Nuevo State Reserve and is only one parcel away (500 feet) from Big Basin Redwoods State Park.