The Value of Land Conservation

The Buffalo Creek Valley that snakes along the border of Butler and Armstrong counties is a mixture of agriculture and forests; but, because it is situated along a new major artery just 30 miles from downtown

Pittsburgh, suburban sprawl is quickly altering its character.

The Butler County Natural Heritage Inventory classifies the valley as an exceptionally significant biodiversity area. The Audubon Society designated it an Important Bird Area.

My husband, Charles, and I were both separately drawn to our adopted landscape and thought of nothing else than to assist in preserving it when the opportunity arose, as a few others had done before us. Todd Sanctuary, one of Pennsylvania’s oldest private nature reserves, was created in 1942 through a donation by W. E. Clyde Todd, Curator of Birds at Carnegie Museum of Natural History. As a teenager, Mr. Todd became enamored with the Buffalo Creek landscape as he visited his grandparents and began his lifelong study of birds.

Also as a teenager, Charles joined the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania (ASWP), habitually visiting “Todd” and eventually working as a resident summer naturalist there. As a young woman enthused about agriculture and open places, I moved to the Buffalo Creek valley when my parents bought 110 acres of undeveloped land.

One summer afternoon, I attended a nature walk led by Charles; we married a few years later and eventually moved to raise our children on land adjacent to Todd and just down the road from my folks’ property. When my parents passed on, there were the usual details to attend to for the five siblings, including dispensing with the land. Charles and I wanted nothing more than to see the land protected in some way and had no interest in the fraction of the property inheritance.

We approached ASWP with the idea of donating a conservation easement before liquidation, given that the Horigan tract was just one property removed from the sanctuary. Instead, we were thrilled when ASWP expressed an interest in fundraising for an outright purchase. We assisted with a successful property tour for a potential major funding source, which included our children collecting aquatic life from the creek to share with the visitors. The purchase price was decreased by our donation of 1/5 interest. We also constructed several deed restrictions about how the land could be used or who could own it in the future, and we had these reviewed by an attorney friend before they became part of the record of closing.

Now totaling 286 acres, Todd Sanctuary is still relatively small as a protected portion of the Buffalo Creek Valley landscape. ASWP continues to strive for more protection in the surrounding area. We can only hope that other landowners will step forward and see the value of their own land, choosing conservation.

 

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by Terry Bier 

 

Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania

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