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12:01 PM Tue, Sept. 25th

Land conservation group earns accreditation

Matt Turner/Courtesy Photo

More than a quarter-century ago, Prescott residents rallied to “Save the Butte” and formed the Central Arizona Land Trust (CALT) to do just that. This month, the Land Trust Accreditation Commission in New York awarded the accreditation seal to CALT, one of about 300 community institutions in the nation that have met national quality standards for protecting important natural places and working lands forever.

Central Arizona Land Trust is a community-based, 501(c)3 private non-profit organization guided by an all-volunteer board of directors. It is one of 1,700 such land trusts across America that are committed to conserving natural resources and agricultural lands in their local communities.

Commission Executive Director Tammara Van Ryn said the accreditation seal lets the public know CALT has undergone an “extensive, external review of the governance and management of its organization and the systems and policies it uses to protect land.”

It wasn’t an easy process, said CALT Board Chair Rebecca Ruffner.

The organization spent two to three years preparing the application, and shipped off two banker’s boxes in February to the commission, which granted accreditation on Aug. 17.

“We are very, very proud of that, it allows us to be an effective conservation organization in this area,” Ruffner said.

CALT got its beginnings in 1989 when residents noticed a bulldozer carving out a home site at the base of Thumb Butte.

“Most of us thought Thumb Butte was protected as Forest Service land,” Ruffner said. It wasn’t.

The Trust for Public Land helped a small group of volunteers establish CALT, which worked with the City of Prescott and landowners. CALT raised enough money for several lots on the eastern slope of the butte.

Today, the Thumb Butte Conservation Easement encompasses seven acres. The easement was conveyed to the city in 1996 as public open space.

“We only work with willing landowners. We are not an organization that is anti-development. We work only with property owners who want their land conserved for perpetuity,” Ruffner said.

Conservation easements, or agreements, are flexible and tailored to the individual property and property owner, the organization’s website states (www.centralazlandtrust.org). Sometimes the landowner continues to live and work on the property, and it is not accessible to the public.

The W Diamond Ranch Agricultural Conservation Easement in Skull Valley, donated in 2007, remains a working ranch. The 4,300-acre easement provides perpetual protection of agricultural uses, wildlife habitats and large landscape conservation. Subdivision and development limitations protect the land.

The Boyle-DeBusk family donated property along White Spar Road, which was subsequently donated to the city in 2002. The Boyle-DeBusk Conservation Easement is managed as public open space. It offers a hiking trail and a seasonal pond.

The most recent easement is the Payne-Granite Dells Conservation Easement on Highway 89 in Granite Dells. It encompasses 28 acres and protects a riparian area along Granite Creek. Those hiking the Watson Dam Trail are enjoying this land.

On Sept. 10, at 5 p.m., CALT is hosting a program on the future of the Verde River at the Milagro Arts Center, and will celebrate earning the accreditation seal – probably with cake, Ruffner said with a laugh.