JEFFERSON — The Board of County Commissioners supported several proposed land conservation projects for tracts of land in several townships.

Four resolutions supporting efforts of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and the Western Reserve Land Conservancy to either obtain conservation easements or purchase private land were approved Thursday by Commission President J.P. Ducro and Commissioner Casey Kozlowski. Commissioner Kathryn Whittington was absent.

The resolutions are for properties in Saybrook, Sheffield, Morgan and Monroe townships totaling more than 300 acres. The largest, at 190 acres, is a piece of property on the Lost River Farm in Sheffield Township to the north of Gageville-Monroe Road and south of Plymouth-Ridge Road. The Western Reserve Land Conservancy is trying to secure Clean Ohio Green Space funding to purchase a conservation easement for the property.

The state, through the Ohio Public Works Commission, provides financial assistance for conservation purposes through the Clean Ohio Green Space Conservation Program. 

The easement would protect wetlands, streams, floodplains, farmland, fields and forests. Chris Szell, Western Reserve Land Conservancy Director of Conservation Project Management said the 190-acre property will continue to be privately owned, and both Western Reserve Land Conservancy and the Cleveland Museum of Natural History will hold a conservation easement on the property.

“This essentially means that the property will remain in its natural state and the development rights will be retired,” he said.

The property is also home to the brook lamprey, an endangered animal species, and two threatened plant species, Szell said. The land is largely forested and it straddles the Ashtabula River, Szell said, and the water quality benefits derived from the wetlands on the land are immense.

“Our goal is to preserve natural areas and farmland in northeast Ohio and one way we do that is through a tool known as conservation easements,” Szell said. “This landowner has agreed to sell a conservation easement to the Land Conservancy.”

Lost River Farms owner David Snyder said he is “thrilled and excited” to be working with both the Western Reserve Land Conservancy and the Cleveland Museum of Natural History on the easement project. Snyder said he envisions transforming the property into a natural educational area, along the lines of the Holden Arboretum, in the coming years.

The conservation easement, if obtained, would be a win, Snyder said, because it would allow him to retain private ownership of the land while preserving it in a natural state for future generations to enjoy. Snyder said he will continue to do agricultural work as well as holding a Harvest Festival at the farm.

“The property is a valley and its best use is to stay a natural area,” Snyder said. “It’s really a natural area that has been left to itself for a long time. It’s a beautiful area with a fragile landscape that can’t be duplicated. Once it is gone it would be gone forever. We are taking steps to ensure that it survives in its present state.”

The other three conservation efforts being undertaken by the Cleveland Museum of Natural History include a 57-acre parcel in Monroe Township, a 35-acre parcel in Morgan Township and a 33-acre parcel in the Geneva Swamp in Saybrook Township.

The Bear Creek conservation project in Monroe Township involves the purchasing and permanent conservation of floodplain and wetlands in the Conneaut Creek Watershed, and the land being sought is in the vicinity of the museum’s Floyd Preserve and the Ashtabula County Metroparks Patch Corners Road Preserve.

The Geneva Swamp Protection Project in Saybrook Township contains a unique wetland and the museum would issue permits to people for research, nature studies, hiking and hunting. The museum would also offer regular educational field trips at the swamp for the general public.

The conservation easement being sought in Morgan Township is adjacent to the museum’s Grand River Terraces Preserve, and it would allow current owners continued use of cottages and outbuildings on the property but restrict any logging or future development. The preserve is a large forest bloc that protects several bird species, according to Garrett Ormiston, GIS and stewardship specialist for the Cleveland Museum of Natural History Natural Areas Division.

The three projects are in the preliminary stages and the museum is trying to raise money through the state for the three projects, Ormiston said.

“We focus in on protecting sites that have rare species, rare plants and unique habitat,” Ormiston said. “Rather than primarily focusing on the recreation of a site, we focus on the science of a site and its habitat.”

Ducro expressed concern about the number of conservation easements in the county during Thursday’s meeting. Although he said he understands the environmental importance of such endeavors, the county may eventually need to take a long-term look at how more easements in the future could impact tax revenues.

However, Szell said of the 56,000 acres of land preserved by the Western Reserve Land Conservancy across Northeast Ohio, they only own about 5,000 acres. When the Land Conservancy only holds a conservation easement, the property stays in private ownership and remains on the county tax roles, Szell said. 

When land is purchased by the Land Conservancy it comes off tax rolls because of the organization’s nonprofit status, Szell said.

In the county, the conservancy holds easements on 33 private farms and easements on 51 other properties, for a total of just over 8,000 acres that remains on the tax rolls. The Land Conservancy owns about 700 acres of land in the county which is no longer on the tax rolls.

“The vast majority of our work is with private landowners who retain ownership of their land,” Szell said. “In Ashtabula County we don’t own that much.”

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