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December 04, 2016
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A conservation leader reemerges; Delaware Highlands Conservancy earns esteemed accreditation

At a critical juncture in the dialogue and dynamics surrounding our region’s land use, the Delaware Highlands Conservancy (DHC) is prepared to be a significant voice in the conversation. The organization is now officially recognized by the Land Trust Accreditation Commission, an independent program of the Land Trust Alliance (LTA).

Achieving accreditation places the conservancy among a select group of only 135 out of 1,700 land trusts in the United States to earn the accreditation seal, which means it meets and adheres to national quality standards for protecting important natural places and working lands and for organizational operation and management. “It’s a symbol of how far we’ve come in less than 20 years, and it represents an enormous commitment of resources,” said the organization’s president Greg Belcamino.

The rigorous process was made possible by a network of volunteers and staff who logged more than 900 hours during the 12-month process before handing off a mountain of materials for a six-month review by the LTA Commission. LTA thoroughly examined the governance and management of the organization, its systems and the policies used throughout its conservation and education work.

“Accreditation sends a message to members, volunteers, potential easement donors, supporters and grant-making organizations that the conservancy operates in compliance with the highest standards in the land trust community,” said Belcamino.

“We’ve been working in line with accreditation standards since they were introduced,” added Sue Currier, the conservancy’s executive director, “and we’ve always followed standards and practices. The recent ruling formalizes our commitment.”
The milestone also allows the conservancy to refocus its resources on land protection.

To date, the conservancy has protected more than 13,000 acres in the Upper Delaware watershed through 65 conservation easements in the four-county area it serves (Pike and Wayne counties in PA and Sullivan and Delaware counties in NY). A conservation easement is a voluntary agreement that allows landowners to permanently limit the type and amount of development on their property while retaining private ownership.

Becoming accredited also makes the conservancy eligible for an insurance program offered by LTA that provides support if the organization incurs expenses in defending conservation easements. “The legal climate in which we’re operating, one in which gas leasing has created incentives to violate easement terms, makes this especially important for us,” said Belcamino.
The process also allowed the conservancy to prepare for growth.

In addition to its ongoing educational outreach and partnerships with state and local governments and other non-profits, the land trust’s newly adopted strategic plan calls for increased focus on work in New York State, especially in Sullivan County, according to Belcamino. “We’re going to work with the NYS Department of Environmental Protection on land protection in the New York City watershed.”

Supporting the increased pace of its conservation work will be a new Land Protection Specialist, who will double the organization’s ability to address landowner inquiries and negotiate conservation easements. As well, the addition of an Outreach and Development Manager, a new position funded by a grant from LTA and the NYS Conservation Partnership Program, will help to articulate the value of conservation. “We’re poised for significant growth in our conservation activities within the community,” said Currier.

Currently, the conservancy collaborates with initiatives like Common Waters, the Pike Wayne Conservation Partnership, the Upper Delaware River Roundtable and Shop Local Save Land. Added Currier, “We continue to explore new ways to partner and combine resources with individuals, organizations and agencies to ensure our work is reflective and supportive of the needs of our community while being as efficient as possible.”

For more information on the DHC or to learn how to protect your land, email info@delawarehighlands.org or call 845/807-0535 (NY) or 570/226-3164 (PA).