ESU Alumna Discusses Land Conservation

Laura Baird is a Senior Land Conservationist at the Heritage Conservancy, a member of the Pennsylvania Land Trust Association. Photo Credit / Jamie Reese
Laura Baird is a Senior Land Conservationist at the Heritage Conservancy, a member of the Pennsylvania Land Trust Association. Photo Credit / Jamie Reese
Laura Baird is a Senior Land Conservationist at the Heritage
Conservancy, a member of the Pennsylvania Land Trust Association.
Photo Credit / Jamie Reese

By Zachary Gotthardt
SC Staff Writer

On Friday, April 17, ESU alumna Laura Baird presented her work as a Senior Land Conservationist at the Heritage Conservancy to an audience of students and faculty interested in biology and environmental studies.

Her presentation focused on her primary responsibilities as a Senior Land Conservationist and how students with similar interests can begin careers in land conservation.

During her time at ESU, Baird enrolled in Tropical Herpetology with Dr. Thomas LaDuke, the precursor to the Tropical Ecosystems class of today. This class took annual trips to the La Suerte Field Station in Costa Rica. Baird enjoyed this trip so much that she returned to the field station for an internship managing tropical habitats.

“Part of that work was to work with the local forestry engineers to connect two large areas of rainforest,” said Baird.

She continued, “[It] was my first understanding of the importance of greenways for large areas of woodlands.”

Baird was moved by the necessity of such projects to create a healthy habitat and continued the initiative when she returned home.

Baird graduated in 2000 and immediately began to work for the Monroe County Planning Commission as a county planner. Her responsibility was reviewing city plans and checking them for consistency.

Eventually, she was invited to work with the County Farmland Preservation Program, which allowed her to help farmers conserve their land.

The idea is to put a deed restriction on farmland so that the farmers can give ownership of the land to whomever they chose as long as the restriction is in place.

Baird knew that this was the career for her.

“Land conservation was not just for farmland — it was for woodlands, it was for critical habitats, for wetlands, for so many different things,” she said.

After three years of working with Monroe County, she found the Heritage Conservancy and was hired as a land conservationist.

The Heritage Conservancy believes that open spaces and woodlands are resources that should be preserved. To achieve this goal, the Heritage Conservancy uses conservation-easements.

“Conservation-easements are perpetual deed restrictions placed on properties so that they can never be developed,” said Baird. “We have been doing this for nearly 55 years. We have preserved over 12,000 acres. Of that, 10,000 are conservation-easements.”

Under this agreement, land owners are financially reimbursed for their agreement to never develop or sell their land. In exchange, they are allowed to keep their land indefinitely. This allows the Heritage Conservancy to preserve open space and history.

It is Baird’s responsibility to contact landowners and inform them of the conservation-easement program. She also makes regular visits to the properties to ensure that landowners are adhering to the terms of the agreement, such as not building in designated areas.

The Heritage Conservancy believes that each location has its own unique story to tell. Recently, the Heritage Conservancy created a conservationeasement on an area known as the Litner Property, which was once owned by Eric Knight, author of “Lassie Come Home.”

The dog that inspired Lassie is buried onsite. Despite this location being recognized on the National Register of Historic Places, it was not completely protected from development until the establishment of its conservation-easement.

While preserving open spaces and historic landmarks is one of their primary goals, the conservancy has many secondary missions and projects as well.

Recently, they worked at the Quakertown Swamp to create road crossings for amphibians during their breeding season. The frog and salamander populations were experiencing high mortalities due to motor vehicles.

The Heritage Conservancy worked with a local Girl Scout troop to direct traffic and helped the amphibians to cross high-traffic roads to reach their spawning pools.

The conservancy has an active presence in Wind Gap as well. Currently, they are attempting to create a greenway, a passage of undeveloped area for wildlife to travel, connecting the Appalachian Trail to suitable woodland several miles away. The Heritage Conservancy has purchased a significant amount of land in Wind Gap and hopes to complete the greenway in the near future.

Baird encourages anyone interested in land conservation to do his or her research. There are dozens of land trusts in Pennsylvania that are looking for students with an environmental background to help with their initiatives.

“There is the Pennsylvania Land Trust Association of which the Heritage Conservancy is a member. On their website, there is a list of jobs and internships available for land trusts in Pennsylvania,” she said.

Baird also encourages students to utilize the open spaces we have near campus, such as parks and trails that are open to the public.

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