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Aerial Monitoring of Conserved Land

View from Above – Aerial Monitoring Using Satellite Imagery

To supplement our on-the-ground stewardship efforts, SAHC is developing an aerial monitoring program. SAHC stewards land spread across approximately 4,000 square miles — and as of 2020, our Stew Crew is responsible for monitoring over 50,000 acres of conservation easements and SAHC-owned land.

Individual tracts range from 0.5 acres to over 8,000 acres, with the majority of protected properties being between 100 and 200 acres – much of which is steep and rugged terrain. Annual monitoring site visits require substantial time and resources, and SAHC performs rigorously in fulfilling these monitoring responsibilities. However, as our portfolio of protected land continues to grow (yay, land protection!), the physical challenge of visiting every protected acre each year looms at the horizon of impossible — even for the Stew Crew at SAHC. 

Over the years, we have used new technological tools and methods to pragmatically boost efficiency and accomplish our commitment to perpetual stewardship of protected lands. This year we are excited about integrating aerial monitoring into our stewardship program.

What is Aerial Imagery Data and How Do We Use It?

In recent years, we have augmented our monitoring procedure by using satellite imagery that is freely available through Google Earth software to prepare for field visits. However, the intermittent publication of such publicly available imagery often makes it useless for detecting changes that occur on a protected property within the current year — the fundamental objective of annual monitoring.

To address issues of satellite data availability and resolution, we have researched companies who compile satellite data captured by multiple entities and make it available via a web service. Specifically, we’ve been looking at companies that focus on providing high resolution satellite imagery (that’s 0.5 meters or less) for environmental and conservation organizations. This service is a repository for historical and current imagery, and they contract with commercial satellite companies to request current images where they are unavailable. 

Aerial Monitoring in Keeping with LTA Standards and Practices

SAHC has decided to proceed with developing an aerial monitoring program in keeping with the Land Trust Alliance’s Standards and Practices.

We are currently identifying properties that SAHC stewards that are best candidates for aerial monitoring and plan to begin implementation in early spring of 2020. This program has the potential to help SAHC more completely survey properties to detect changes – especially encroachments in remote locations. It does not, however, replace on-the-ground monitoring. While monitoring using current, high resolution satellite imagery will enable us to increase efficiency and be in better touch with the condition and activity on the lands that we steward, we still very much look forward to seeing you all in the field!

 

Sandy Mush Forest Restoration Coalition

SAHC partners on forest stewardship expansion in Sandy Mush.

We have long been stewards of Sandy Mush, protecting over 12,000 acres of this high priority conservation area. We are excited to collaborate with EcoForesters and the Forest Stewards Guild to help grow a Sandy-Mush-wide forest restoration project! While this project is still in its infancy, with collaborators working to secure funding, the primary goal is to foster healthy and resilient forests that protect environmental values, cultural heritage, economic opportunities, and quality of life for the Sandy Mush Community.

Through this project we hope to:

  • Form a “Sandy Mush Forest Restoration Coalition” by bringing together diverse stakeholders in the community and create a collaborative space for shared decision-making.
  • Restore native species habitat, as much of the forest land in Sandy Mush has been degraded by historical land use practices and non-native invasive plants.
  • Host an annual Forest Stewardship Gathering in Sandy Mush to connect landowners with resources to care for their forests.

Blue Ridge National Heritage Area logoThis project is made possible by a grant from the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area Partnership. 

Look for more updates in the future!

Waynesville First United Methodist Church Volunteers at Doubleside Knob

On Saturday June 3rd, ten members from Waynesville’s First United Methodist Church came out to our Doubleside Knob conservation property to help removed invasive Oriental Bittersweet vines.

This tract is located within SAHC’s French Broad River Valley Conservation Focus Area. The heart of this area is the French Broad River, which is believed to be the third oldest river in the world — even pre-dating the ancient Appalachian Mountains. Our efforts to protect land in this area contribute to clean streams and rivers. Properties like Doubleside Knob are often adjacent to or contain headwater streams, and protecting the land helps protect these clean water sources.

Read more

Mortgages on conservation easement properties

National Conservation Buzz Topic: Can a mortgage violate your conservation easement?

Curious about how a mortgage or deed of trust could impact your conservation easement? Imagine you need to borrow money at some point, and use your conservation easement property as collateral for the loan. A mortgage typically is not prohibited by a conservation easement.

But consider this: conservation easements limit, and many outright prohibit, dividing the property into smaller parcels. A violation could arise if a mortgage is placed on only a portion of a conservation property (rather than the whole conservation property).

Why? If a lender ever had to foreclose on the mortgage and take title to the portion of the property with the lien, that foreclosure would divide ownership of the property. The lender would own one part of the property and the landowner the rest. As noted above, many conservation easements don’t allow such divided ownership. And, in some states, the act of simply taking out the mortgage on a portion of the property can constitute a legal division.

When considering a mortgage on an existing conservation easement, please consult with your attorney and SAHC staff before you close the loan to ensure no impermissible divisions could occur.

Reflecting on Spring and Stewardship at SAHC

035.jpgby Margot Wallston, SAHC AmeriCorps Stewardship Associate — July 2013

One of my favorite things about working in land conservation during the spring is being able to take note of the persistent emergence of botanical life after winter’s long repose. Hiking off-trail to monitor remote pieces of land affords the opportunity to witness the first signs of spring: new stems pushing up through the ground, swelling leaf buds, the first hints of color as flower petals begin to open.  It’s fun to guess what identity each new plant will take on: Will a red, clenched hand atop a fuzzy stem become false goats beard? Will a blue-purple fan of soft baby leaves become blue cohosh?

I’m not alone in relishing in this annual event.  Many people look forward to spring’s arrival as the best time to watch the forest reawaken after winter as wildflowers gradually begin to bloom.  But spring also stirs to life a host of invasive, non-native plants which compete with our native wildflowers and trees for essential resources.  One of the first invasive plants to pop up amidst our native spring ephemerals is garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata). Read more

Volunteer crew transforms exotic invasives into hand-wrought works of art

p5050015.jpgOn May 5, 2012, SAHC stewardship staff teamed up with a dedicated group of volunteers to remove exotic-invasive species from a beautiful mountain farmstead. The crew worked for a majority of the day cutting humongous invasive oriental bittersweet vines on SAHC’s newly-acquired Robinson Rough
property.

Robinson Rough is a 248-acre property near the Sandy Mush Township in northwestern Buncombe County, NC. 216 of these acres consist of steep, craggy forestland that continues all the way up to a high-elevation ridge that is visible from downtown Asheville. The lower 32 acres contain a series of rustic cabins and scenic open pastures. SAHC was able to purchase the Robinson Rough property in late-2011 with the help of an eager seller. Read more

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