Hunting and other outdoor recreational activities are considered national pastimes with roots in practically all  50 states, from hunting whitetail deer on the eastern shore of Maryland and targeting sandhill cranes in East Texas to shooting a limit of divers on Lake Mattamuskeet in eastern North Carolina.

On the negative side of things, available land continues to dwindle in the Carolinas from development and conversion to non-forested, non-recreational uses.

But landowners can put an end to further habitat loss on their properties and promote outdoor recreation in perpetuity with the use of protective conservation easements.

While many states are experiencing population declines, the Carolinas are the polar opposite. Over the past five years, the population in the Carolinas has increased 4.5 percent — 1.3 percent more than the national average — and new shopping centers and subdivisions are quickly consuming farmland, timberland and thousands of acres of prime wildlife habitat. North Carolina and South Carolina are consistently recognized for the outstanding business climate and the excellent quality of life, and that will attract more and more permanent visitors.

North Carolina was listed by Forbes magazine last year as one of the three best states for business. North Carolina and South Carolina rank high among migration rates, leaving many states in the north and Midwest at a loss.

The U.S. Census Bureau predicts the population will continue to grow in the Carolinas and decrease in other states where business and quality of life standards are less than preferred. 

The number of hunters in North Carolina and South Carolina remains relatively stable. Even though more than 3 million acres of public hunting land are available for licensed hunters in the Carolinas, the remaining 47 million acres are disappearing under concrete. The South’s rural communities are falling by the wayside, with resulting land uses bringing little benefit to wildlife. 

It doesn’t have to be this way. Landowners with an interest in outdoor recreation can protect their lands forever, while benefitting financially with the use of conservation easements. 

What are conservation easements? They are perpetual agreements between the landowner and a qualified private land-conservation organization, often called a land trust. The easement protects the property from development outside of its current use to achieve conservation objectives that can include water quality, sustainable forestry, wildlife habitat, and aesthetic preservation.

Conservation easements become a permanent part of the chain of title, and will protect the land from development now and 200 years from now. 

In a conservation easement, a land trust is given the development rights to the land by purchase or donation. That means the landowner can continue to live on, hunt and even farm and timber the property under a lasting agreement that limits development of the land. 

Unfortunately, there is a stigma about conservation easements that keeps many landowners from entering into a conservation easement, but most of these stigmas are totally unfounded. Conservation easements can be very flexible and usually fall right in line with the current landowner’s objectives.  

Janice Allen of the North Carolina Coastal Land Trust works with individual and corporate landowners to protect and conserve land. 

“We conserve land that has ecological, historical, conservation and economic values,” said Allen (252-634-1927). “We do a lot of work with sportsman that hunt and have a great love of their land.” 

Around 47 land-trust organizations operate in the Carolinas. In North Carolina, more than 400,000 acres in more than 2,500 tracts are enrolled in conservation easements. The North Carolina Coastal Land Trust covers 31 counties and has more than 62,000 acres under easement. 

Out of its land base, the North Carolina Coastal Land Trust has landowners from private individuals to corporate participants with a wide variety of land-use interests. And the owner’s land interests expand much further than just protecting water quality and rare species habitat. 

“We have easements with forest industry and large-scale farmers to protect their current land uses and to provide tax incentives. Forest industry lands provide excellent wildlife habitat and farmers provide an excellent service to the public while also providing excellent wildlife habitat,” said Allen. 

Conservation easements are intended to protect land from permanent development, and the easement language can be very flexible to allow for existing and future activities. 

“Donated easements have lots of flexibility that can include timber management, food plots, equipment shelters, road maintenance and even places for a few home sites. We aren’t trying to control somebody’s enjoyment or way of life. We want to become a partner in their management for a win-win for both the landowner and the natural resources,” Allen said.