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The Call of the Wild

Land stewardship may not sound exciting, but it is shaping and retaining the beauty of the Sierra Nevada. Here’s how one small organization has had a big effect.

By Mollisande Williams

Placer Land Trust (PLT) aims to preserve what it calls “natural playgrounds” and “wild places.” Formed in 1991 in response to the rapid growth and development in Placer County, the nonprofit organization—originally consisting of a small group of passionate people meeting in a living room in Roseville, California—now permanently protects 8,000 acres of open space.

These areas include the gorgeous and unique 40-acre Bailey North Fork Preserve on the American River, a prime habitat for foothill wildlife species (bear, deer and coyote, for example); the 313-acre Liberty Ranch Big Hill Preserve, between the Bear River and Coon Creek watersheds, that contains some of the last roadless areas in Western Placer County; and the 469-acre Swainson’s Grassland Preserve along Highway 65 that protects several threatened species, like the Swainson’s Hawk and the Western Burrowing Owl.

However, the work is far from finished: PLT predicts it will double its existing protected lands in the next few years. To achieve this goal, the organization works with willing landowners and conservation partners in two ways.

Some of its preserves are currently held by “fee titles,” which means PLT owns the property and has complete control over it. Invasive plants can be removed and native species restored, fuel load is reduced for fire prevention, trees and flowers are planted. The organization also builds trails and, based on location and terrain, opens these properties to the public for outdoor recreation.

But PLT also acquires land by conservation or agricultural easements, forever limiting the developmental rights even though the property is retained by its original owners. For example, as part of a 2003 bankruptcy settlement, PG&E began working with land trusts to permanently protect 140,000 acres of resource and recreational land in Northern California. PLT will hold conservation easements for more than 12 of these properties, including Christian Valley Park in Auburn and Bear River Pinecroft Reserve near Colfax.

The organization relies heavily on private and public support to continue its work, and welcomes members, donors and volunteers. Volunteering opportunities range from building trails and planting flowers to stuffing envelopes and setting up for events. For instance, the Placer Conservator Dinner is held each October, with awards for outstanding contributors, a gourmet menu prepared by a celebrated local chef and a silent auction (all proceeds benefit PLT).

There are also year-round events, most of them free of charge, such as docent-led hikes (some by the light of the full moon), geology seminars, guided tours of private reserves, bird-watching, and wine and craft beer tastings. To find out more, see placerlandtrust.org/calendar-2.

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