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Group pushes preservation of wildlife habitats

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As developers build new homes and businesses in Johnson County, an organization has identified thousands of acres that should be conserved and protected.

The Central Indiana Land Trust, an Indianapolis-based nonprofit environmental group, hopes to help conserve more than 30,000 acres in Johnson County in an effort to prevent developers from building in areas where certain species live, conservation director Cliff Chapman said.

About 7,000 of the 31,263 acres identified in Johnson County already are protected by the land trust in nature preserves, conservation easements and organizations, such as Camp Atterbury. But he said the group would like to work with more landowners and organizations to conserve more land.

The land in Johnson County is included in the group’s Greening the Crossroads plan, which marked more than 300,000 acres in nine central Indiana counties for conservation, Chapman said.

Land conservation

Who: Central Indiana Land Trust, a nonprofit environmental group, owns and manages nature preserves in nine central Indiana counties. The group also helps residents create conservation easements, in which they donate portions of their land rights so that the land can be forever protected from development.

Land conserved in Johnson County by land trust: 587 acres

Total land conserved, including nature preserves and government property: About 7,000 acres

Plans: The land trust hopes to help conserve more than 30,000 acres of land, mostly near Edinburgh and Trafalgar in the southern part of the county.

Why: The land is a priority to preserve because it is home to certain species, such as wood thrush and freshwater mussels.

“We want to see the area grow and have economic growth,” he said. “That makes the whole area healthier. But where should that growth be? It’s a tough decision.”

Locally, the land is mostly near Edinburgh and Trafalgar in the southern part of Johnson County and is home to certain species, such as mussels and wood thrush, he said. The land trust determined which areas should be conserved by finding woods and streams where those species can live and grow, and hundreds of other species also could live there.

“If it’s healthy enough for them, it’s healthy enough for lots of species,” Chapman said.

The group has worked with Johnson County landowners before. Five of the group’s 11 conservation easements are in Johnson County, and the land trust hopes to conserve more land around the Laura Hare Preserve at Blossom Hollow, a 109-acre nature preserve the land trust recently bought near Trafalgar.

Chapman said the land trust is working with at least three families in the county to develop conservation easements, where landowners donate a portion of their land rights to the trust to preserve the land from development.

The landowners still own and maintain the land, but a conservation easement says the land cannot be developed even if it’s sold, a designation tied to the property’s title.

He said the group also wants to give landowners information about how they can preserve key habitats, such as mussel beds or forests where blue herons live.

“Maybe a forested corridor is part of our plan, and the farmer that owns it says he didn’t know it was significant. Now maybe we can work with the landowner to make informed decisions,” Chapman said.

The Central Indiana Land Trust also would like to work with the county to restore land damaged by the 2008 flood, Chapman said.

The county soon will finish demolishing homes in the Bluff Acres area off State Road 37 as part of the flood buyout program, and the land trust would like to help the county plant trees on the land, county planning director Bryan Pohl said. He said the idea could save the county money in mowing costs, and he plans to meet with representatives of the land trust in the next few months.

Landowners who have thought about getting a conservation easement may be more willing to do so now because Congress has renewed income tax deductions through the end of the year. Farmers who create conservation easements can deduct 100 percent of their income from their taxes for up to 15 years or until they reach the value of the land donated, and other landowners also can get a deduction, Chapman said.

“The main reasons why people do it is they really love their land and want to see it kept open. We have some conservation (easements) in Johnson County that have been in the same family for years,” Chapman said. “For people that are almost ready to do it but can’t make their mind up, this could be the extra little incentive that will make them do it this year.”

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