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The Missouri Conservation Department recently learned that it will receive more than $500,000 from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to buy conservation easements on four parcels of land in Lawrence County.
Peggy Horner, the Conservation Department’s endangered species coordinator, says they’ve already purchased easement on 295 acres in the county and are currently working on another easement purchase in the same vicinity.
If the new easement purchases are agreed upon by landowners, they would total approximately 895 acres.
The reason for the purchases: to protect the endangered gray bat and the threatened Ozark cavefish along with the threatened plant—the Missouri bladderpod. Horner explains why those species need protection…
"Ozark cavefish need high quality, underground water, and, in the corridor of I-44 where there's a lot of run-0ff, there's a potential for spills, there's a big potential to develop the area more, by protecting from further development we can ensure that the water quality will remain about the same if not improve the water quality for the Ozark cavefish that need that high quality of water."
Horner says gray bats, which need high quality habitat, are found in caves in the area where easements are being purchased—near the I-44 corridor in Lawrence County—and glades in the area are home to the Missouri bladderpod.
Horner says the easement purchases, basically, involve landowners selling the development rights to their properties. Ozark Regional Land Trust will be the primary holder of those development rights…
"Which they won't develop because their mission is conservation."
Ted Heisel is executive director of Ozark Regional Land Trust…
"The Ozark Regional Land Trust's role is to monitor that conservation easement and make sure that it's being upheld and that the land is staying, you know, as a farm or forest or whatever other natural resources are on it that we're trying to protect with the conservation easement. It does not give the public a right to access that property. It remains private property for all purposes except the landowner is giving up development rights on that land."
He says it’s strictly voluntary—they only work with people interested in seeing their land protected into the future.
According to Horner, farmers and ranchers can still use their land but they have to follow best management practices…
"They have to have certain restrictions like keeping cattle out of sensitive water tributaries, keeping cattle out of caves and cave entrances."
She says the Conservation Department can help the landowners with their management plans—for example, making timber stand improvements.
She says they’ve received letters of intent from the landowners of the four properties that the Conservation hopes to acquire easements on, which state that they want to work with the Department.
For KSMU News, I'm Michele Skalicky.