Thirty years ago, a group of people concerned about losing the region's land to development decided to do something about it.

Thirty years ago, a group of people concerned about losing the region's land to development decided to do something about it.

The Southern Oregon Land Conservancy held its first board meeting Nov. 14, 1978, and the nonprofit organization is now one of the largest land trusts in the state, said Development Director Michael Stringer.

"(The founders) were concerned about the same things people are still concerned about today," said Diane Garcia, executive director of the conservancy. "They wanted to maintain Southern Oregon's rural character, its open spaces and its working farms, forests and ranchlands."

The conservancy helps property owners set up conservation easements — a legal agreement that limits land use and runs with the property in perpetuity.

"Conservation easements are a great tool for landowners who want to continue to own their land and also ensure that it is always protected," Garcia said. "It gives them piece of mind. When they sell it or pass it on, they know that all future owners will continue their legacy."

It costs about $150 to preserve one acre of land, Stringer said.

To continue its conservation mission and celebrate its 30th anniversary, the conservancy is aiming to raise $30,000 by Nov. 30. To help the nonprofit meet its goal, several supporters have offered to match donations made before the end of the month.

The Land Conservancy — made up of a 13-member board of directors and a staff of five — has permanently conserved 8,200 acres of land, encompassing 39 properties, Stringer said.

This includes conservation easements on the City of Ashland-owned Siskiyou Mountain Preserve and Oredson-Todd Woods.

The conservancy also holds easements on the Jacksonville Woodlands and Trail System.

Recently, the conservancy formed a deal to conserve open space along Jackson and Griffin creeks in the Twin Creeks neighborhood of Central Point.

This will double the amount of park land in Central Point, Stringer said.

The conservancy also helps preserve private land and has assisted in protecting several properties around Southern Oregon, including more than 1,300 acres of private land at the Siskiyou Summit that contains a mile of the Pacific Crest Trail.

Stringer said people often ask why they should support the conservation of private property.

"I think it has a simple answer: private lands give public benefit," he said. "People value Southern Oregon for many different reasons, but high on many people's list are scenic beauty, clean air and water, and a bounty of local agricultural products. This is made possible because of private landowners — people who may have cared for their property for their entire adult life."

When these people move away, retire or die, the land changes hands and the new owner often has a different view of property management, Stringer said.

"If we do not invest in conserving private lands now, their conservation features will be lost forever," he said.

Southern Oregon is one of the fastest growing areas in the state, and the most growth occurs in rural locales, Stringer said.

The shift from undeveloped land to residential, commercial and industrial property is happening even faster than population growth, Stringer added.

"They're not making more land," said Karen Smith, a founding member of the conservancy and current board member, "so it's important to safeguard what we have."

For more information about the Southern Oregon Land Conservancy, go to www.landconserve.org.

Staff writer Kira Rubenthaler can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 226 or krubenthaler@dailytidings.com.