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Land trust sets gas guidelines; a milestone true to its mission


January 3, 2012

UPPER DELAWARE REGION — Just before the new year arrived, members of the Delaware Highlands Conservancy (DHC) received word that the non-profit accredited land trust had established guidelines concerning development of natural gas on DHC-protected lands in the Upper Delaware River region. The new guidelines govern amendment of its existing conservation easements as well as new easement donations.

A conservation easement is a voluntary but legally binding agreement between a landowner and a land trust. The landowner retains ownership and title to his or her land, but extinguishes development rights.

The exhaustive process of drafting the new guidelines resulted in the following conclusion: “Gas drilling and its associated impacts on infrastructure and natural resources are not compatible with our mission and the conservation goals we must meet to assure the long term protection of our lands, waters, and quality of life.”

Greg Belcamino, president of the DHC Board of Directors, continued in the letter to explain the organization’s view that natural gas exploration, extraction and associated impacts raise immediate and serious concerns.

“In all of our land protection, education and outreach efforts, we consistently recognize the importance of healthy lands and waters to our region’s local forest, farm, and tourism economies and to the rural quality of life residents of this region desire to sustain,” wrote Belcamino. “The conservancy’s mission of protecting the lands and waters of this region now and for future generations demands that we take an approach to natural gas development that is consistent with our immediate and long range conservation goals.”

In arriving at this position, the DHC researched how other land trusts were responding to considerations of the impacts of natural gas development on the conservation values of lands and waters over a period of several years. After thorough discussion, a set of guidelines was adopted to address that development in a way that assures the organization’s mission remains central to all of its land protection activities.

Challenges encountered during the process included finding unbiased sources of information and staying abreast of the rapidly evolving evaluations of the safety of gas drilling. “We were cognizant of the passion evoked by this issue, and yet we needed to remain focused on our mission and committed to our normal decision-making process,” said Belcamino. “At the completion of the process, the board was unanimous in voting to accept them.”