The Conservation Trust of Puerto Rico (CTPR) is similar to the Virginia Outdoors Foundation in many ways. Both were established more than 40 years ago, and both serve citizens who revere their natural and cultural heritage and are concerned about development pressure.
A big difference between the two organizations is the way in which they have protected land. Most of CTPR’s 23,000 acres have been protected through fee-simple acquisitions, while most of VOF’s 675,000 acres have been protected through voluntary conservation easements.
CTPR recently decided to expand its easement program, setting a goal of protecting 15,000 acres of land through easements over the next 10 years. Last spring, Fernando Lloveras San Miguel, CTPR’s executive director, contacted VOF to coordinate a visit to Virginia to learn more about its conservation easement program. He knew that VOF held more easements than any land trust in the nation and wanted to know what factors led to such success, with the hope of replicating that success in Puerto Rico.
In April, Lloveras and two other members of the CTPR staff traveled to Northern Virginia to meet with VOF during a two-day visit. On the first day they met with senior staff and trustees, representatives from the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, and Virginia’s Secretary of Natural Resources Doug Domenech (who is a former CTPR advisory board member). The meeting provided a general overview of VOF’s easement program, mapping technologies, acquisition strategies, stewardship initiatives and the state’s management and preservation of historic resources. On the second day, the group visited a number of VOF easement properties and went on a hike in the VOF-owned Bull Run Mountains Natural Area Preserve. They hiked to the top of the mountains, to a spot known as White Rocks, and from there could see one of the state’s most expansive and dense concentrations of easements, protecting tens of thousands of acres of open space less than a one-hour drive from our nation’s capital.
“The Trust learned about VOF’s educational campaigns, landowner outreach strategies, delineation of Special Project Areas, easement evaluation and conveyance process, easement stewardship program and regional office integration,” Lloveras told the Land Trust Alliance in an interview about the partnership. “We are currently designing a detailed strategy to augment the number of conservation easements in Puerto Rico focused on the strengthening of its easement program’s workflow through the integration of its regional offices, the design of a landowner outreach and marketing campaign and the implementation of various demonstration projects at three priority conservation areas. VOF’s extraordinary experience in easement expansion provides a blueprint for the design, implementation and evaluation of this strategy.”
In September, CTPR followed up by sending staff member Maryolis Cruz-Pabón back to Virginia for a few weeks to delve further into VOF’s policies, practices, procedures and programs. She spent time at each regional office, getting a chance to see the diverse types of projects that VOF has worked on over the years.
Both groups look forward to continuing the partnership. Says VOF Executive Director Bob Lee, “After Maryolis’s visit, I would like us to reciprocate by sending VOF staff to Puerto Rico to gain insight into the Trust’s work and the challenges and opportunities that it faces, especially with regard to the lands that it owns and manages for public use. There is potential for VOF to be a stronger vehicle for public land acquisition in Virginia, but we must have the capacity and expertise to manage those lands. We learn a great deal from collaborations such as the partnership with the Trust, and we hope that the easement model we’ve developed in Virginia can be adapted in Puerto Rico with similar success.”