What is a conservation easement?
Conservation easements allow people to permanently protect the land they love. A conservation easement is a legal agreement between a landowner and a land trust (such as Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy) that protects the land’s ‘conservation values’ (things like wildlife habitat, water quality, scenic views, or farm quality) by permanently limiting the way the land may be used. The landowner retains private ownership of the property but the agreement is a forever document that will also bind any future owners to its terms.
What does SWMLC need conservation easement monitor volunteers for?
Properties that have conservation easements on them require annual monitoring visits to make sure the terms of the agreement are being followed. Here at SWMLC, we currently oversee 112 such properties, so our small staff relies on dedicated volunteers to assist with monitoring.
What happens during a monitoring visit?
Monitoring visits involve meeting with landowners, and documenting the property by walking it and taking photographs at points of interest. The resulting report is then entered into SWMLC’s database.
What are the requirements for volunteering?
It’s most helpful for us if conservation easement monitor volunteers can make a longterm commitment.
♦    You must be physically fit enough to walk large acreages over potentially wet or rough ground during property visits.
♦   You must be able to recognize recent changes in the landscape (such as trail construction, tree removal, or work that redirects water drainage) during monitoring visits.
♦   Team members must be friendly and able to represent SWMLC well when interacting with conservation easement owners.
♦   You need to be comfortable entering documentation into the same land management app that SWMLC uses for all our protected properties. Training will be provided, of course!
♦   Attention to detail is absolutely necessary when preparing documentation.
♦   Attendance at quarterly Land Protection Team meetings (in-person or by Zoom) are strongly encouraged. They’re a fun way to interact with SWMLC staff, learn about ongoing and potential land protection projects, and meet other conservation monitor volunteers – people who share an interest in protecting nature in southwest Michigan!
♦   Enough available free time in the spring and fall to complete your assigned monitoring visits, including documentation.
I’ve never done this kind of work before. Are there training or mentoring sessions available?
Yes. The Land Protection Team usually meets in the spring for training and to plan the next year’s monitoring visits.
How do I get started?
Please contact Conservation Easement Specialist Cindy Mills by email  or by calling her at 269-324-1600 x306.