The cowboys who have ridden these rugged lands since before they could walk would have laughed to see me (and to be honest, you probably would have, too).
There I was, trotting along aboard a frisky mare, ironically named “Grandma,” carrying all my necessary equipment: backpack, cameras, measuring tape, GPS unit, iPad case, and more – all dangling and swinging as my mount made her way up the trail.
Now I’m no cowgirl. So trying to plot a precise GPS point, jot down notes, and take photos from horseback proved no easy task! But it was the best way to cover ground, carefully inspect the property, and accomplish our conservation work for that day. And by the end of it, I was exhausted and grinning ear-to-ear like a kid after her first pony ride.
That particular day, I was out trotting around with ESLT’s Land Conservation Program Director, Susanna Danner. We were creating reference points on a current conservation project – points that I will use in the years ahead for our annual monitoring visits.
Monitoring is a big part of my job as Eastern Sierra Land Trust’s Stewardship Coordinator, and it’s a core responsibility of all land trusts across the nation. When a land trust works with a landowner to help him or her protect their property for future generations, the land trust takes on the responsibility of upholding the land’s conservation values forever. And one important way of doing this is by visiting the property on a regular basis to monitor the land for any changes over time – thereby ensuring that the terms of the conservation project and the values of the land are upheld.
With twenty-one completed conservation projects that need to be monitored every year (and several more in the works, such as the one I explored on horseback earlier this summer), getting out on our protected Eastern Sierra lands has been a large part of my work with ESLT since becoming Stewardship Coordinator. Many monitoring visits require long hours – as you might imagine, with some of our conservation projects spanning over 1,000 acres. Some days are arduous (particularly during the summer’s hottest days), but often my monitoring visits can take on the feeling of a scavenger hunt.
After scheduling my visit in advance with the landowner (and often meeting with them upon my arrival), I head out to the property and hike, ride, or drive to a list of predetermined locations. At each spot, I compare current conditions of the land and buildings to photos and descriptions taken from the time the conservation project was first completed. I take pictures and notes to record any changes to the land or the structures, and keep an eye out for wildlife and historic artifacts while on the land. Then when I return to the ESLT office, I compile my notes into an annual monitoring report that we send to the landowner, as well as to any agencies that helped fund the original conservation agreement.
My monitoring visits have provided me with much more than scavenger hunts and saddle sores. They give me the chance to meet with the landowners of different properties, and to explore fascinating and seldom-visited historic sites. I have come across Native American projectiles, old mining valve handles, and historic foundations, to name a few. I’ve also gained a greater understanding of the conservation values these diverse lands hold and how they relate to and impact our larger Eastern Sierra landscapes.