Bear Yuba Land Trust prioritizes easements for future generations
BYLT’s new executive director looks to engage community partners in critical conversations.
Depending on the season, Erin Tarr spends her free time hiking or snowboarding with her three kids — 18, 15 and 7 years old.
The Bear Yuba Land Trust, Tarr’s employer for nearly a decade, has always worked actively to secure the future of outdoor recreation through conservation easements, trail creation and maintenance.
After sharing the position for the last three years as co-executive director, Tarr in early February became the organization’s sole director after Erika Seward stepped away.
“I am excited and honored to be leading the land trust at such a critical time for sustainable recreation and community resilience,” Tarr said. “I look forward to continuing to work with our many partners to reach shared goals: creating a healthy community devoted to nature access and climate change resilience.”
For Tarr, what’s important is that city and county governments are starting to realize their role as key stakeholders and take part in environmental actions as the conversation about recreation and resilience increases in relevance.
Tarr said the land trust has several initiatives underway, including the rehabilitation of Independence Trail, but is particularly struck by the progress made through easements over the last few years.
According to the National Conservation Easement Database, a conservation easement is a voluntary, legal agreement that permanently limits uses of the land in order to protect conservation values.
Conservation easements for a particular acreage can offset a measurable amount of carbon emissions or greenhouse gases.
Tarr said California’s Department of Conservation started the Sustainable Agricultural Land Conservation program, which allocates a portion of the cap and trade funding each year toward conservation projects.
“They’ve done easements,” Tarr explained, adding “now, they’ve opened it up to fee titles as well.”
Tarr said the department looks at agricultural land close to cities or within spheres of influence that can be protected as viably protected areas.
That means blue oak woodlands, grasslands and wetlands — “where the cattle graze” in Nevada County.
“We just closed on a project — the Robinson Ranch,” Tarr said. “We got grant money to purchase 1,600 acres of land.”
Tarr said by conserving the land, the trust has helped offset carbon and greenhouse gases “in perpetuity.”
“It will forever be protected from development,” Tarr said, adding that the Sanford Ranch was another parcel on the southern end of Nevada County that recently acquired protected status.
“Both of those families, the Robinsons and the Sanfords, have been here for six to seven generations,” Tarr said. “They don’t want to see this land converted.”
Tarr said agricultural easements are useful because people can continue to grow and live on land, but future subdivision and developments are restricted.
Land trusts across the state are applying for these kind of programs, but the local land trust may have experienced relative success because of the continuity of “the blue oak woodland belt.”
Tarr said a number of the protected land parcels in the region are adjacent to one another. The contiguous section of land is also a wildlife migration corridor.
Tarr said the land trust first began to explore agricultural easements to help local farmers struggling with land security.
“Some leases were not long, or were month-to-month,” Tarr said, adding, “land was too expensive for farmers to purchase and own.”
The land trust, combined with the Tahoe Food Hub, Sierra Harvest and BriarPatch Food Co-op, make up a working group that identifies issues with lack of available land for organic farming.
Tarr said the land trust investigated the option when it saw what was happening to Mountain Bounty Farm one year ago.
“Mountain Bounty happens to be the largest of our organic farmland in the area,” Tarr said.
Tarr said the land owner did not want to renew a long-term lease for the 10 acres.
“This working group that was looking at land for farmers said this is an opportunity to take action,” Tarr said. “So the proposal was made, that the land trust purchased the land in this partnership and we’re leasing it back.”
Tarr said the group raised over $200,000 more than needed to purchase the land, which is now in savings for preservation of future farms in the area. The purchase was the first of the BYLT’s Forever Farms program.
Robin Milam, who serves on BYLT’s Board of Directors, said Tarr was promoted to the role of the sole executive director after her partner in environmental advocacy, Erika Seward, took a leadership position at Johnson County Parks and Recreation in Kansas.
“Erika has young children,“ Milam said. ”She’s going to be able to raise her kids around her family — her parents — she was made that offer and transferred back February 1.“
Milam said the trust also welcomed Kate Gazzo as stewardship manager and Jerry Dion as finance and operations director.
Aside from easements, Tarr said the land trust will continue to focus on restoration projects, forest health, biomass management and trail building under her leadership.
Felicia Dunn, the land trust’s community engagement manager, said she is looking forward to a 2021 focused on sustainable recreation and land conservation.
Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer with the Sierra Sun and The Union, a sister publication of the Sun.
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