Photo: Land Trust.

What Does It Mean to Monitor Our Lands?

Aug 08, 2019 by Peter Cooper
Why does the Land Trust monitor its lands, and what does that mean? Stewardship Associate Peter Cooper shares his experiences.

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One of the questions I often get asked as a Stewardship Associate with the Land Trust is “What is your role in the organization?” Or put more eloquently, "What is your role in protecting and caring for the lands that you conserve?" My answer, albeit slightly different each time, always involves talking about monitoring in some capacity.

Taking a look at the monitoring notebook while out in the field. Photo: Land Trust.
Taking a look at the monitoring notebook while out in the field. Photo: Land Trust.
Property monitoring is one of the most important procedures we as a stewardship staff utilize to make management decisions, track significant changes over time, and ensure that our lands are being used responsibly by the public. Through regular monitoring efforts, it is easier to maintain good working relationships with neighboring landowners, and in some cases, current residents that live and work on some of these properties. From an ecological standpoint, the data collected while monitoring can provide us with important information about native and non-native plant populations and the current status of restoration projects. Quite simply, monitoring is a huge part of day-to-day operations within the stewardship department and it is a process I believe everyone should know more about.

Depending on the property, formal monitoring is either conducted annually (all properties where we hold a land protection agreement, or conservation easement) or every other year (all Land Trust Preserves). Before heading into the field, it is important to do some background research about the property which may entail reading over a management plan, looking at previous years’ monitoring reports, refamiliarizing yourself with the terms of a conservation easement, or studying maps of the area to ensure that you’re oriented and know what to keep an eye out for. Some properties also require us to reach out to the landowners or partner agencies to let them know when we will be doing the monitoring and invite them to join, if interested. Once the pre-field work has been completed, it’s almost game time. But first, you must amass the materials needed to be a successful property monitor. This includes, but is not limited to, an iPad with Avenza Maps, GPS device, relevant maps, and a field monitoring notebook. After all the gear is packed, it’s time to pile into a truck and head out into the field.

Sometimes monitoring takes you deep into a grassy creek. Photo: Land Trust.
Sometimes monitoring takes you deep into a grassy creek. Photo: Land Trust.
Once you’ve arrived at the property, you’ll want to grab everything you need to survive for a few hours and fire up your Avenza Maps App with a compatible GPS or phone device to begin navigating to predesignated photopoints. A photopoint is a georeferenced location with some sort of significance where we take a set of photos to track changes and conditions over the years. Traveling by foot to the various photopoints often takes you through different parts of a property where you can gauge boundary sign or fence conditions, and make note of any trespassing or violations of an easement--in which case the Conservation Authorities will be called. Hiking through the property will almost certainly reveal a plethora of management-related actions that need to take place--whether that is weed treatment, trail clean up, or tree thinning, to name a few examples. Once you feel that you’ve taken enough photos and gathered enough information, it’s time for the last step in the monitoring process--the final report.

Compiling all the photos and information into a condensed report is a good way to summarize what the current state of the property is and what needs to be done in the future. The final report is sent out to the appropriate landowners and conservation partners, and saved for future reference internally.

The task of stewarding thousands of acres of conservation properties would be impossible without eyes and feet on the ground. Property monitoring is crucial to upholding the mission and vision of our Land Trust and ensuring that our conserved lands are in the best condition possible. As technology changes, so to will the process of monitoring. In particular, the use of drones to collect aerial imagery will be a valuable tool when assessing land from a bird’s eye view. Stay tuned!

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