For the Finger Lakes Land Trust (FLTT) there is a lot at stake in 2020. That’s a good thing, according to Andy Zepp, who leads the organization serving as executive director.
The nonprofit was formed 30 years ago with the goal to work with local landowners and communities to come up with win-win solutions to conserve important natural lands around the Finger Lakes. It is a mission that, according to Zepp, has worked out well.
In 2019, FLLT surpassed 24,000 acres protected, and another 43 miles of trails opened to the public. Zepp said it was a huge year in which the Trust also celebrated its 30th anniversary.
This year the focus is on issues like water quality and preserving natural spaces along the region’s lakes. They are two priorities that the organization has identified as crucial for 2020’s broader mission.
“We’re particularly focused on the lands that are important for water quality,” Zepp explained. “There’s a lot of concern with toxic algae outbreaks, and the health of the lakes depend on the health of the land.”
Zepp said that there is also focus on the type of work that was accomplished in earlier years. “We also are continuing to work to protect natural areas, scenic farmland, and recreational trails that we see as a growing network throughout the region,” he said.
The Land Trust views these issues as major opportunities to improve quality of life in the Finger Lakes for visitors and residents alike. Especially given the impact on the local economy that tourism, and nature have on it.
“We have to take care of these beautiful lands around us, if for nothing else for our economic future,” Zepp continued. The process of working with individual landowners depends on a variety of circumstances. For example, if those stakeholders are interested in finding an economic solution that works for them.
“In some cases, we might actually acquire the land and make it available to the public. But in a lot of other cases, we’re using a tool called a conservation easement that limits development while allowing for traditional uses such as agriculture and forestry,” Zepp explained. It allows the Land Trust to work with those private parties to ensure that partnerships for the future are formed.
“We’re accredited by a national organization that works with land Trust’s across the entire country, to ensure that when we’re all gone, and even our kids are all gone, that our organization will be taking care of these lands,” Zepp said.
At the end of the day, though, those partnerships are born out of a real commitment to find the best solution for all parties involved that embraces conservation but also allows for a real benefit to the community at large.
“A lot of what we do is simply to provide options for landowners,” Zepp said. “We try to maintain and build trust.”
There is a simple reality, though, which Zepp said the Land Trust thinks about regularly. “We recognize that we won’t be successful if we don’t take the economy into account,” he said. “The irony of our region is we have a tremendous amount of land relative to population, but the market will tend to drive toward those fragile sites or the best farmland.”
Zepp remains optimistic that the Land Trust will continue to grow and thrive in 2020. Another focus for the year is to continue finding support through advocates, volunteers, and donations. “We’re always looking for more support,” Zepp said, “and we’ve been fortunate to have some great supporters, advocates, and volunteers over the years.”