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Volume 40 Issue 6 • June 10-16, 2010
now in our 40th season

For Love of the Land

by Chris O’Day

On Nantucket, the love of the land is undeniable. Ask someone to describe Nantucket’s landscape and you will often hear loving descriptions of our island’s “natural beauty.”  But it was not just the roll of the dice that has preserved Nantucket’s natural wonders, Nantucket has a protector: The Nantucket Land Council.

The Nantucket Land Council Inc., or NLC, has long fought for Nantucket’s  preservation.  Founded in 1974 by concerned citizens who valued Nantucket’s natural setting, the NLC strives to prevent overdevelopment and protect Nantucket’s rural beauty.  According to their website, the founders of the NLC, “were offended that a few individuals were converting "owners unknown" land into personal gain.”   Since its inception, the NLC has been prepared to take legal action to protect land for the greater public good.  Now, more than 1,000 members strong, the NLC is the leading land and natural resource advocacy group on the island.

The NLC fights for preservation, but gains most of its land through cooperative arrangements with private owners.  Easements called “Conservation Restrictions” are the NLC’s main way to ensure Nantucket stays natural and pristine.  Conservation Restrictions, or CR’s, are legally binding easements that allow people to retain private ownership of their land while setting precedents that all or most of their land will remain undeveloped forever.  CR’s benefit everyone:  the landowner retains ownership and gets tax breaks while Nantucket gains more undisturbed beautiful land.

Why would someone be motivated to give up the right to develop his or her land?  It seems a mix of altruism and respect for beauty may be the answer.  NLC membership coordinator Elizabeth Hazell said, “People enter into Conservation Restrictions for various reasons.  They may have a favorite view they want to protect for future generations, or they may want to keep the property in the family while conserving it from development, which CR’s allow them to do.”  CR’s can be lengthy process and begin in many different ways Hazell explains, “Owners come to us about wanting to conserve their land and sometimes we target different areas of land that would benefit the community by being preserved.  When we first started, we had a map of all the land that could essentially be conserved and as most of the big parcels have been saved, we are focusing on smaller lands, such as ones connecting two important conservation lands together.  There is no set time for CR’s and some have been in talks for 20 years before they have been completed.”

Through their hard work the NLC has been immensely successful with their conservation efforts. With the recent completion of its Loring Campaign to preserve 270 acres of land on Eel Point Road, the NLC has now proudly helped place over 1,000 acres into Conservation Restrictions. Among these protected lands are 110 acres of farmland on Bartlett Ocean View Farm, and hundreds of acres in the Middle Moors, Plains, Squam and Smooth Hummocks.

After land is donated, or CR’s are placed on it, the NLC often transfers the land to the Nantucket Land Bank or Nantucket Conservation Foundation to manage.  The NLC was setup to be the watchdog and go-getter to defend open space.  They take their stewardship of land very seriously, but working with the other conservation groups that are better equipped to act as land managers allows the NLC to continue to be focused on their main roles in advocacy, education, research, resource protection, planning and monitoring.  It is like how an ER doctor might save your life, but a nurse is better equipped to bring you back to health, while the doctor can focus on saving the next patient.  Executive Director of the Nantucket Land Bank Eric Savetsky said, “We have worked creatively with the Nantucket Land Council in the past. We have bought land from them so they could continue to act as watchdogs and we could manage the land, and they have used the money from the purchases to help obtain more CR’s.”

Executive Director of the Nantucket Conservation Foundation, Jim Lentowski added, “We three groups—the Foundation, the Land Bank, and Land Council—work closely together to complement each other in our conservation efforts.  In the past, the Land Council has gained parcels and handed them over for us or the Land Bank to manage.”

The Nantucket Land Council’s motto is: Planning, Protecting, Preserving, but their attitude toward the public is educate, educate, educate.  An informed public makes the best decisions.  The NLC continues to produce work to promote the use of and to sway Nantucket towards Green Eco-friendly practices. Hazell said, “Education is the key to change.  When making policy changes educating the public is essential.  That is why we fund so many studies, because once people understand why something needs to be done and they see the proof they are more apt to do something about it.  To this end we send out newsletters twice a year to all Nantucket registered voters, informing them about different conservation efforts and environmental concerns we are currently working on.” Besides their informative newsletters they have produced many other works to serve the community such as pamphlets on organic gardening and water quality.

Along with educational efforts, the NLC puts on an annual art exhibition called, “Love of the Land.”  The first exhibition was meant to benefit the Loring campaign, and included 38 artists displaying their works inspired by Eel Point.  With the success of the first exhibition, the “Love of the Land” art show has become a annual event with a different theme each year. In 2007, the theme was “Nantucket’s Wildflowers”, in 2008 the “Nantucket’s Trees”, and in 2009 the theme was “Water.”

The last art show’s theme was appropriately titled because the newest battle on the horizon for the NLC is protecting Nantucket’s water. “We are very concerned about the water pollution on Nantucket. A study last year found that the water in Hummock Pond was so polluted that it could be potentially fatal to dogs and even humans,” said Hazell.  The startling reason for this pollution was not some evil corporation dumping toxic waste, but just people taking care of their lawns.  “Most of the water pollution comes from landscaping chemicals that run off or seep into our water supplies.  That is why we are advocating organic landscaping.  With organic landscaping it feeds the soil and not just the plant, which avoids pollution.”

Last winter the NLC offered twelve $1,000 grants to island landscapers to attend an Organic Lawn Care Course.  The course put on by the Northeast Organic Farming Association taught and advocated for organic practices in the lawn care industry.  Granting the scholarships was it a pay-it-forward investment in Nantucket’s future.  Hazell said, “Nantucket now has the most accredited organic landscapers per capita in the U.S., with more people using organic landscaping and becoming educated on the matter, it is going to cut the pollution problem off at the source.”

Nantucket is an island with a finite amount of land that can be conserved, but the battle for the NLC will never be over.  “Although restrictions are put on land, these restrictions need to be monitored to make sure they’re followed.  That is why each year we visit each CR land to make sure there is not a swimming pool built, where an endangered tree used to be.  We also fund various scientific studies to educate the public and have to do a lot of work that may not seem attractive or get recognition but is essential to protecting the land.”

Hazell sees a bright future for Nantucket.  She said, “Nantucket has a great history for conservation and protecting the environment. For that matter, Nantucket is the leading commonwealth in the country when it comes to recycling.  Also, with the green movement it is in peoples’ psyches more than ever to be more environmentally responsible.  It is socially acceptable now to be green, you are no longer thought of as a tree-hugger just because you care about the environment and want to make a difference.”

The NLC is always looking for new members and donations.  To join visit their website - www.nantucketlandcouncil.org — where you can also read their newsletters.

 

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