2009 has been a busy year for the Alabama Land Trust, Chattowah Open Land Trust, the Georgia Land Trust and their affiliate organizations. We’ve blown past our strategic goal of protecting 125,000 acres of land by 2011, instead protecting nearly 156,000 acres by the end of 2009. In this last year alone we’ve protected 38,000 acres of land, breaking our previous record of protection of 35,000 acres in 2007. To give our readers and the conservation-minded public in general a better grasp of how much land we’re talking about, we’d like to try put things in perspective for you.

The 38,000 acres we protected in 2009 is roughly equivalent to 59 square miles of land or an 8 by 7.5 mile box. In that amount of land one could squeeze in 4,175 (with an acre or two to spare), 9.1-acre Georgia Domes. Our total land protected, 156,000 acres, comes out to 243 square miles of land. If you’re familiar with the multi-armed, writhing morass that is the Atlanta Metropolitan Area, 243 square miles is nearly the size of DeKalb County, at the heart of the Atlanta metro area. If you’re an Alabaman, 243 square miles is roughly one quarter the size of Jefferson County, or more than 2/3 the size of the entire Birmingham Metropolitan area. And all of this has been protected with a staff of only 13.

What’s most incredible about this accomplishment? The first is that we revisit every acre of land we protect every year. For two months of each year, land trust staff reviews the documents that delineate the land’s protection, fire up their GPS units, unsling their cameras like weapons of war and take to the roads and the air to monitor our protected properties (almost 185 square miles in 2009).

The second incredible thing is the sheer diversity of the habitats, people and situations our land trusts work with to accomplish all this land protection.. Conservation easements in the land trusts’ area of coverage are so far flung that it could take a person 11 hours to drive from one end of the coverage area to the other. Despite that vast range, every single acre of protected land was visited and monitored to ensure the land has been maintained as intended.

These monitoring activities took place while we were protecting a further 59 square miles of land. This means that in 2010, when our land trusts once again take off on their annual monitoring, they will being monitoring 243 square miles as they continue their protection work.

The land area our land trusts operate in is so large and diverse that it stretches from the rocky crags and streams of the Blue Ridge Mountains and Cumberland Plateau to the coastal Tupelo and Cypress Swamps. They hold easements in the Piedmont, Coastal Plain, Fall Line, and the Blackbelt. In fact, our land trusts hold conservation easements in every ecological region of Alabama and Georgia. (To get a pdf of a beautiful map showing the ecoregions, you can go to the EPA webpage.)

These easements are intended not only to preserve the incredibly diverse flora and fauna of our region, but also the bounteous food and timber its farms and forests provide. In addition to protecting critical habitat, riparian corridors and other environmental assets, our land trusts protect historic family farms, valuable soils, productive forest plantations, hunting lands and more. They work with farmers, foresters, and, in general, landowners concerned with the future of their land.

In fact, landowners have been the biggest reason for the land trusts’ success. Every year dozens of landowners contact our land trusts because of the recommendation of other individuals who have previously protected land with us. Landowners take a big leap in protecting land with us by agreeing to a permanent relationship with the trusts and so far our landowners have been active participants in the protection of their land.

So, the land trusts have been successful so far, and given our efforts to refine our operating procedures, should remain so in the future; however, we can only continue to do so with the help of caring, conservation-minded individuals. If you’d like to learn more about us or are considering protecting your land in 2010, look us up at galandtrust.org. Or if you would like to give us a call you can reach our Northeast Alabama Office at (256) 447-1006; our Columbus, Georgia Office at (706) 662-2211, or our Savannah, Georgia office at (866) 656-5263 or (912) 231-0507.