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Land eyed for preservation in Reserve

With a large swath of woods recently preserved on South Whidbey Island, conservation leaders are setting their sights on Central Whidbey.

The Whidbey Camano Land Trust is looking to protect more than 700 acres of land within the boundaries of Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve. Land Trust leaders will accomplish this through a combination of land purchases and conservation easements.

For these projects to become a reality, the Land Trust will need approximately $4.7 million in state support.

The properties include farmland, a heritage forest and a popular bird habitat.

Approximately 240 acres of farmland located on the northern edge of Penn Cove and scattered through Ebey’s Prairie are sites for conservation easements, which will protect the properties from further development but still allow crops to be grown.

“It’s really important to keep that land in private ownership. We’re not farmers,” said Pat Powell, executive director for the Whidbey Camano Land Trust.

More than 150 acres of land owned and farmed by the Muzzall family is slated to receive a conservation easement.

The remaining 92 acres of farmland comprises five different parcels scattered throughout Ebey’s Prairie and currently farmed by the Engle family. The 92 acres will help fill in gaps between other protected properties within the Reserve.

The Land Trust is looking to purchase approximately 460 acres of wetland in the Crockett Lake Watershed, which Powell said is a critical flyway for shorebird migrations.

The conservation group is also looking at purchasing 60 acres of heritage forest located within the boundaries of the Casey Conference Center, which is currently owned by Seattle Pacific University. If the Land Trust acquires the property, the forestland will be rolled into the current Naas Preserve, which is located north of the conference center near Engle Road.

The upcoming Central Whidbey projects come on the heels of the public effort to purchase and protect the 654-acre Trillium Woods located on South Whidbey Island. That project came to fruition thanks to support from community donors.

For the Central Whidbey land purchases and conservation easements, the Land Trust is looking more to the Legislature for help. The Land Trust is hoping to receive money from the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program, which is funded through the state capital budget and not the general fund that legislators recently slashed by billions of dollars.

Powell said it’s up to the Legislature to approve bonds needed to fund the property purchases. She added that the wildlife and recreation fund does enjoy widespread bipartisan support. Even though the Legislature begins meeting in January, she doesn’t expect money from the program would be doled out until July or August 2011.

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