He traverses the property for 20 minutes, occasionally consulting the red folder for guidance. “Looks good,” he says. “Time to move on to the next one.”
The Preservation Trust currently holds 226 conservation easements (and counting). Collectively, they protect 13,564 acres—that’s 21 square miles—scattered all over the San Juan Islands. As holder of the easements, the Trust is responsible for enforcing the unique terms of each one, now and forevermore. To do this, Dean or another member of the SJPT stewardship staff inspects each property once a year. “On average,” he says, “we’ve found less than one violation per year for more than 200 easements. That’s pretty good.”
What happens when they do find a violation? “We try to resolve them amicably. But sometimes we have to resort to stronger measures. Lately we’ve been dealing with one on San Juan Island. The owner hired someone to cut a bunch of trees to improve the view. The easement was ‘forever wild,’ so cutting trees wasn’t allowed. We’re filing a suit for damages, which will be used to replant the trees.”
A 2014 example of illegal clearcutting in Anacortes
What happens when they do find a violation? “We try to resolve them amicably. But sometimes we have to resort to stronger measures."
Dean’s next stop is the home of Don and Sandra McVay, also near Deer Harbor. The McVays’ conservation easement, which they donated to the Trust in 1987, protects a one-acre parcel adjacent to their home lot. Although it’s among the smallest easements the Trust holds (the largest is 2,300 acres), the steeply sloped property has 130 feet of shoreline and hosts a typical mix of Douglas-firs, cedars, madronas, and a few small maples and junipers. One Garry oak tree corkscrews skyward near a rocky clearing dappled with moss, lichen, and native grasses.
This single acre is an unspoiled island microcosm. Don and Sandra are clearly happy and proud to know that the Preservation Trust will monitor and guard it long after they’re gone.