The Agricultural Conservation Easement Program began in 1998, as a tool developed to protect participant farms with Whole Farm Plans from parcelization. Our approach to land acquisition differs greatly to other land trusts in the region, as landowners retain ownership of their property and may continue to use it for agriculture and other activities. To date, 28,800 acres have been conserved through this program, allowing the landscape to remain in farm and forest production, helping the region sustain its economic viability.
Realizing that forest lands cover 78% of the NYC Watershed, and the critical role healthy forests play in the protection of water quality, the pilot program for Forest Conservation Easements (FCE) was launched in 2015. After years of developing the program, the first solicitation was sent out to 119 landowners covering 28,000 acres who currently had a WAC Forest Management plan and were enrolled in NYS 480a Forest Tax Law. The parcels also had to be at least 100 acres in size.
In September of 2018, WAC closed on its first FCE of 210 acres. Another 2,300 acres are currently in contract, with an additional 500 acres in negotiation. In a short time, this program has been a great success in the protection of working forest lands from parcelization and development. Logging, bluestone mining and farming are among the 15 Reserved Rights all WAC Easement landowners retain.
The Conservation Easement Program has evolved over the years to meet the needs of the region’s producers. Working with farm and forest families to keep their land intact and in production is key to the region’s success for the next 25 years and beyond.
Read more of the 2018 Annual Report here.