Monday, February 8, 2016

Getting our house in order

By Beth Sullivan
Not everything a Land Conservancy does has to do with hands-on tree hugging! Though most of us wish it was!
We have so many places to share.

On the face of things Avalonia is about Land Conservancy, it’s our name. Our mission statement reads: “ We preserve natural habitats in southeastern CT by acquiring and protecting lands, and communicating the value of these irreplaceable resources.”
We acquire, we protect, we steward and manage, and educate. Yes, we even hug the trees.
We dedicate our special acquisitions.

However, as with many other types of organizations, there are standards to be upheld and practices to be followed. And, in order to determine compliance, there is always “A TEST.”
The Land Trust Alliance (LTA) is the over-seeing organization that has put forth the Standards and Practices rule book. A huge collection of everything you could need, or want to know, and more. In order to become accredited with the LTA there is a daunting process that Avalonia has embarked on: making the commitment to adopt the polices, uphold the high standards and follow the practices that are recommended. This means at every step of the way.

Everything is scrutinized 

A lot of what goes on behind the scenes of a full-functioning land trust is paper shuffling, as much as we all hate to admit it. It is essential to being able to carry out the mission. The LTA is scrutinizing every thing we do from paperwork to posting signs and pruning vines!
We educate others about our special places.

Governance and Development happen behind the scenes. How the organization is structured and run and operates will be reviewed. All the things we as volunteers take for granted, like the rules and guidelines we seem to follow instinctively, must be spelled out and documented.
Strategic Planning is more than just a dream of where we want to see ourselves as an organization down the line, but an actual concrete statement of how we plan to get there, and stay there, in perpetuity. This land protection stuff is not for the short term.
We inspire the curious.

Of course there are Finances. No one likes to think about money. Everyone wants to play in the woods. Everyone wants their donations to go directly into the land and acquisition, but what most don’t know is that even raising quantities of money for stewardship and acquisition, takes money. Managing, organizing, and accounting for a land trust’s finances, takes special skills. Fundraising is another set of skills.
We need to reach out to our members, but that is preaching to a very wonderful choir. We are working to reach beyond our members, to convince others who use our trails, see our signs and love the land, to join us with their membership and donations. The open space we protect benefits the entire community.
Reaching out takes skill and time. Designs, graphics, data bases, mailings news blasts, social media management. (Can you help with these?)
Land doesn’t come freely anymore. Or at least not very often. Quality habitat comes with a hefty price tag, especially if it is deemed quality habitat for people as well. Our Acquisition team is on a solid base with volunteers who know how to get out to find the land, connect with the landowners, and reach out to find the funds. LTA will evaluate how we set up to Acquire land.
We care for each property as the donor would  wish we did.

Then there is Stewardship

The heart of the matter. Right now Avalonia protects about 3500 acres of land. I am not sure anyone has actually tallied the miles of boundaries that need to be surveyed at acquisition, posted with signs and walked annually. There's also maintenance, mowing, trail creation and upkeep, invasive species management, building bridges, and installing signage to perform. And, of course, Management Plans to write!
We develop management plans.

In order to get our Stewardship house in order, we are indeed checking boundaries, looking for proper posting, and documenting any encroachments. This is all good. Our management plans are done.

We make sure we know our boundaries.

And, we make sure others know our boundaries.

Check out our website for more information about the Land Trust Alliance, Standards and Practices to get a glimpse of what we, as a volunteer organization, your regional Land Trust, are striving for.
Cramming for an exam makes us really get to the details. We are learning a lot. But we still have time to get out and hug the trees!
We always have time to hug a tree.

You can find more about the Land Trust Alliance here.
To learn about the Standards and Practices of the LTA, look here.
Photographs by Avalonia volunteers.

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