Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Added protection sought for Howard Preserve

Land trust seeks conservation easement on 12.57-acre Bellevue site

Express Staff Writer

Since the Howard Preserve was purchased by the city of Bellevue in 2004 with the help of the Wood River Land Trust and the Howard family, the popularity of the riverside parcel has grown exponentially.

City residents have come to appreciate the numerous recreational and wildlife viewing opportunities this lovely 12.57-acre stretch of riparian habitat provides them so close to town.

Odds are good that people walking through the preserve's extensive cottonwood groves won't be alone. City residents and wild critters alike take advantage of the shelter and escape the woods provide.

To ensure the preserve is fully protected, staff members at the Wood River Land Trust are now hoping the city of Bellevue will agree to a more permanent type of protection.

At a Bellevue City Council meeting last Thursday, Kate Giese, the land trust's director of conservation, requested the city consider placing a permanent conservation easement on the property.

The primary reason the Howard Preserve was established was to protect the valuable wildlife habitat that exists just west of town, Giese said.

"The intent was to keep it the way it is, primarily for wildlife," she said. "I think most of you would agree that is the best use of this property."

Still, as the popularity of the preserve grows, increased pressures may prove harmful, Giese said.

A conservation easement would forever protect the preserve's valuable wildlife habitat, she said.

"We're fine now," Giese said. "But who knows what might happen in the future?"

If Bellevue chooses to place a conservation easement on the Howard Preserve property, the city would continue to retain title to the land, but would give up the development rights to the property. A conservation easement wouldn't change the recreational use of the land.

Conservation easements are voluntary legal agreements between a landowner and a land trust or government agency that permanently limits a property's uses in order to protect its conservation values. While the landowner continues to own the property, the land trust forever holds the easement, even through changes in the property's ownership.

While other options do exist for protecting the natural qualities of particular parcels of land, Giese said conservation easements provide, perhaps, the best method of doing so in perpetuity.

"We think it's the best tool," she said.

A conservation easement would also ensure for Bellevue residents that the Howard Preserve is never used for another purpose other than wildlife habitat, Giese said.

"There are more and more people using it," she said. "It's a great asset for Bellevue."

In general, the City Council appeared receptive to the idea of placing a conservation easement on the Howard Preserve.

At the Thursday meeting's conclusion, City Council members chose to delay making a decision on the proposal pending a review by the city's attorney, Jim Phillips. The council will discuss the proposal at a future public meeting.

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