by William Murphy
Imagine being the force in charge of protecting a large swath of wilderness from the forces of urban development. It is almost always a daunting task. Now, picture further that these responsibilities extend to multiple landmasses of varying sizes and population densities, each with its own unique set of environmental requirements. The amount of skill, dedication and creativity needed to ensure the continued survival of these biologically and geographically diverse habitats is truly massive, so it goes without saying that not just any organization is cut out to handle such trying responsibilities. Readily doing so in the state of Washington is the San Juan Preservation Trust, a not-for-profit organization which has spent countless hours conserving the picturesque ecosystems of the area’s San Juan Islands.
Active in the Washington environmental community for the last four decades, the San Juan Preservation Trust (SJPT) is a nationally accredited organization, and has achieved such an elite status through persistent environmental activism and stewardship. Having had this status renewed for another half decade in the fall of 2017, the SJPT continues to protect the historically significant natural beauty that has brought the San Jaun Islands fame and admiration for decades.
The majority of projects are executed via the group’s dedicated full-time employees, of which there are nine, a 21 member volunteer trustee board and numerous volunteers from the greater San Juan area. Similarly to the many other great land trusts and conservancies which populate North America, the primary areas in which the SJPT focuses its energy are conservation, stewardship, education and fundraising.
As documented in January of last year, the San Juan Preservation Trust has displayed its true colors as a premiere non-profit environmental organization. Since the group’s inception in 1979, the SJPT has protected over seventeen thousand acres of land on twenty of the San Jaun islands, in addition to 47 miles of farmland and three hundred properties. On that note, it should come as no surprise that out of 1, 400 land trusts, the San Juan Preservation Trust ranks in the top two percent. On top of all this prestige, the group has achieved such status without having to affiliate itself with a governmental organization, as well as generating funding through its vast network of volunteers and supporters.
The direct correlation between an area’s popularity and explosive urban development is nearly undeniable. Having recognized this pattern long ago, the SJPT has astutely placed many hours and dollars into the acquisition of privately owned lands throughout the San Juan Islands. Ensuring a property’s protection by the SJPT happens through a number of ways, from receiving land as a gift, to outright purchasing it through the help of grants and donations, to acting as a steward of it by way of a conservative easement. Each option of land protection comes with its own perks and rules, which vary slightly depending on the area and amount of land in question. In the case of donating land to the SJPT free of charge, the land will become part of the organizations vast network of preserves, and will remain protected in perpetuity by the group. Donors may also be eligible for a substantial tax exemption, one of the many benefits of giving owned land to the San Juan Preservation Trust. A detailed list of benefits and tax exemption eligibility can be easily accessed via this link: https://sjpt.org/what-you-can-do/conserve-your-land-2/conservation-options/
Another popular method of land conservation at the SJPT is the initiation of a conservation easement. Simply put, a conservation easement is a legally binding contract which ensures that donated land remains in ownership of the donors in perpetuity, with the responsibilities of maintenance being left to the environmental conservancy in question. Many land owners throughout the San Juan Islands have already hopped on board with this method of conservation, not only to keep the land within their family’s lineage, but also to ensure the continued upkeep of the ecological beauty of their individual property that they have come to know and love. While the number is expected to grow evermore in the future, the current number of conservation easements held in the protective arms of the SJPT comes in at two hundred.
San Juan Preservation Trust is currently in charge of maintaining over fifty nature preserves, not an easy task, but nothing the SJPT can’t handle. Each and every preserve managed by the group has had a specific action plan written up to assist its development as part of the ecologically diverse San Juan Island region. Just like the conservation easements watched over by the group, the preserves are regularly monitored by the skilled staff of the San Juan Preservation Trust in order to ensure environmental stability, health and vitality. A complete listing of all preserves currently protected by the SJPT can be found here, complete with an informative map detailing each location: https://sjpt.org/preserves-map/
Like the beams which support buildings or the worker bees that toil tirelessly in the hive, it is the individuals working within the San Juan Preservation Trust who hold the organization together as a whole. Within these men, women and even children who put forth their time, money and effort to help ensure that the lands protected by the SJPT stay blue, green and clean, the volunteer is considered to be one of the most important. Being paid to do a job well is one thing, but to do it well for little to no monetary compensation is truly a marvelous endeavor. Positions available to volunteers vary greatly depending on the participant’s age, physical ability or specialized skills, but each promises to be rewarding in all senses of the word. Free food and drink is a staple in volunteer appreciation at SJPT, following almost all physical volunteering sessions one of the organization’s numerous preserves. In addition to free gifts such as SJPT-themed clothing and invitations to upcoming events, the most valuable thing which a volunteer can receive is an undying sense of connection to nature, each other and themselves.
San Juan Preservation Trust can be found at 468 Argyle Avenue, Suite B, Friday Harbor, WA 98250. They can be contacted by phone at 360-378-2461, or via email at email@example.com
About William Murphy
William has worked as a general contractor in the city of Fremont, CA for over three decades. During that time, he's written articles about architecture, construction, and environmental protection for various publications. He is an expert on green building and sustainable design. When he's not writing or working, William enjoys spending time with his wife and two children.