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Land trust looks to extend into Cortland County

Bob Ellis/staff photographer

The Finger Lakes Land Trust is working on a plan to protect Birdsall’s original homestead and farm on Route 41 in Scott.

A land protection agency known for its involvement in the Finger Lakes is looking to extend its reach into Cortland County, protecting land along the Tioughnioga River and other farmland or private property.

Katy Dunlap, land protection specialist with the Finger Lakes Land Trust, said Thursday that the organization is pressing for interest from landowners in Cortland County, especially in the Tioughnioga River watershed, to protect that tributary to the Susquehanna River. It recently expanded its capacity to do so, by hiring her for a full-time position, replacing what had been a part-time post.

The land trust works with landowners to apply for state grants to buy development rights on properties, creating conservation easements. These easements continue as the properties change hands, limiting what can be done to the land and protecting it from development in perpetuity.

Most recently, last December the trust won $2.6 million in grants from the state Department of Agriculture and Markets to buy development rights on the Birdsall Farm in Scott, Dunlap said. That award also covered land in Canandaigua, Ontario County. The Birdsall easement, which grants of up to $1.9 million, ensures the land will remain in agricultural production.

The trust works through the state Department of Agriculture and Markets Farm Protection Implementation Grant program. This requires coordination with the county’s agricultural and farmland protection board and county planning department, she said.

The next round of state funding is expected to be announced in 2018, Dunlap said.

County Legislator Jim Denkenberger, chairman of the Agriculture, Planning and Environmental Committee, said his committee plays a role in the necessary approvals for paperwork associated with the easement, with the bulk of the work done by department heads like county Planning Director Dan Dineen or Soil and Water Conservation District Manager Amanda Barber.

The county must also review the land each year to make sure it complies with terms of the easement.

The county can also approve a landowner’s request to subdivide property where an easement lies, as long as the next owner agrees to the terms of the easement, Denkenberger said.

Barber said she was not aware of the Finger Lakes Land Trust interest in the area, noting a number of state and federal programs have helped secure easements. The Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, for example, includes grasslands, wetlands and farmland.

“There are different types of easements to protect or preserve different types of uses on property and easements can be secured by private funding, state funding, federal funding or I suppose local funding, even,” Barber said.

When determining whether a property qualifies for a conservation easement, it is evaluated for its assets and what is nearby, Dunlap said, for example, whether it lends itself to parkland and the landowner wishes that use.

“Whenever we do an easement with the landowner we will look at the parcel and together come up with a plan,” Dunlap said. “The parcel will be broken into zones, for example if a particular part of the property is important for protecting forestland or another for conserving farmland. And within each of those zones we work to identify allowable uses or uses that are prohibited.”

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