Land Stewardship at the Methow Conservancy

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines stewardship as: "the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one's care." As a land trust and an educational organization, we at the Methow Conservancy like to define stewardship as the "ongoing care for the land to benefit both the human and natural communities of the Methow Valley." Thoughtful land stewardship is central to everything we do at the Methow Conservancy.

The Methow Conservancy creates conservation easements with private landowners to permanently protect certain conservation values here in the Methow Valley. These values include wildlife habitats, rich agricultural lands, and scenic landscapes, among others. These easements not only restrict certain types of development, they also require that the Conservancy partner with current and future easement landowners to help steward the land. Methow Conservancy staff create stewardship plans for easement (and non-easement) landowners in the Valley, and stewardship concepts drive our educational programs like the Good Neighbor Handbook, our First Tuesday Lecture series, and our field classes. Inspiring people to care for the land is, ultimately, our mission.

Stewardship Director, Heide Andersen

According to Stewardship Director, Heide Andersen, good stewardship requires getting to know the land as well as getting to know the landowners and their concerns, interests, and experiences with the land.  While the Methow Conservancy shares a variety of stewardship information with residents of the Valley, we also want to learn from landowners because their experiences, successes and experiments provide a wealth of information.  "Landowners in the Methow Valley care about their land and most want to do everything they can to be good stewards of it," notes Heide.  “The more we can learn from them the more we can help them steward their land into the future.”

Stewardship begins with a baseline analysis of a piece of land. First, a member of our Stewardship Program staff meets with the landowner to discuss details about the land – everything from who has owned the land over the years to how the land has been used recently and in the past, to what the landowner can tell us about fish and wildlife habitat and unique features.  Staff then conduct a survey of the property by foot to document habitat, existing infrastructure (roads, wells, fences, etc.) and land uses (agriculture, residential, forestry, etc.).  Next, we establish photo points - fixed locations where photographs will be taken every year to monitor the conditions and uses of the land over time.  Our Stewardship staff create a written report - the Baseline Report - that provides a narrative description of the landscape at the time of the survey.  Our final piece of the initial stewardship framework from which we’ll work for years to come is the creation of a Stewardship Plan.  Our staff can make stewardship plans for non-conservation easement properties as well. 

Stewardship plans provide guidance for caring for individual properties, especially sensitive areas like rangelands and riparian forests.  “It is important to remember that stewardship doesn't have to be complicated,” Heide notes.  "Stewardship is something every landowner can practice. Often, stewardship begins by simply watching your land and observing patterns."

Stewardship of conservation easement properties continues after the Baseline survey with annual visits.  At least once a year, we meet with each easement landowner to monitor the easement and discuss changes in the land and any landowner concerns. We retake photographs at each photo point, and visually survey the land to document man-made (e.g., irrigation installation, fence repair) and natural (e.g., from flood, fire, weeds) alterations to the landscape. We also list any other observations such as fish or wildlife sightings, neighboring land uses, changing vegetation, etc. This annual visit is a chance to both monitor and partner in stewardship by checking in with the landowner and making suggestions or alterations to stewardship plans.

Heide recommends that aspiring land stewards keep a simple land journal, documenting changes in a place over time. Taking notes, drawing simple maps, or including photographs can help track with greater certainty whether that patch of dalmatian toadflax is actually growing or whether an aspen grove is regenerating.  Identifying patterns and processes is the first step in stewardship - and it's fun.

"There is no instant fix to any stewardship issue," Heide reflects. "A little bit of time and a whole lot of care and appreciation for the land will surely maintain this beautiful place we all admire."

For more land stewardship information please see our Weed Guide and our Stewardship Yellow Pages.

If you are interested in learning more or having the Methow Conservancy develop a stewardship plan for your property, please contact us at 509-996-2870 or info@methowconservancy.org


Spring flowers at a conservation easement on the Methow River near Mazama

 
 
 
 
 
 
315 Riverside Avenue / PO Box 71    Winthrop, WA 98862     509.996.2870