Protection for Ebey's Prairie
July 3, 2008 · Updated 12:25 PM
"By D. PATRICK CONNOLLYStaff reporterMore than 500 acres of pristine and valuable land in the heart of Ebey's Prairie will be preserved, and kept free of development, thanks to a deal announced today by the Nature Conservancy. The plan constitutes the largest-ever conservation effort on the 17,000 acre reserve since it was established by Congress in 1978, and involves some 527 acres of beach, bluff, field and forest. The deal, said Pat Powell, director of land protection for the Nature Conservancy's Washington office, is really two-fold.The first part involves an outright donation of 147 acres to the Conservancy and encompasses the entire Bluff Trail, the Ferry House, Perego's Lake and portion of the beach at Ebey's Landing.The second, is an option the conservation agency has obtained to buy 380 acres on the reserve. The land includes the 350-acre mature forest bordering the bluff, and a 20-acre forest above the Ferry House. The kicker, however, is that the Conservancy needs to raise $5 million in donations by May 15, to buy the optioned land. Otherwise, the 380 acres will be sold on the open market.Our fear is that if we fail to raise the necessary funds, this truly spectacular site will be developed with homesites, Powell said. And if that ever happened, we'd lose that great natural and cultural heritage forever.Fears that the pristine prairie and bluff property would be lost to development first surfaced last March 7, with the death of its owner, Robert Pratt.Pratt, who was 84 when he died, grew up on, then inherited, more than 650 acres in the heart of the reserve. The land - including fields, forests, beaches, historic buildings, part of Perego's Lake and the Bluff Trail - among the most desirable on the reserve. The bluff trail alone attracts thousands of hikers each year with its winding, climbing trail overlooking Admiralty Inlet and the Olympic Mountains to the west.Throughout his life, Pratt rejected offers to sell or develop his land. But his death raised concerns among the reserve's supporters as to who would inherit the land and what would they do with it.Some of those fears were calmed when Pratt's will stipulated that four parcels, totalling about 127 acres, be acquired by a 501 (c) (3) non-profit agency, ....such as the Nature Conservancy, for example, as my Executor may deem most appropriate ...Pratt's executor, the Seattle law firm Oles, Rinker and Baker deemed The Nature Conservancy was the most appropriate recipient for the land that was to be donated outright.But Pratt left the bulk of his property to a woman on the East Coast. And her intentions were unknown until today.On Tuesday, an attorney with the law firm, Cynthia Turner, said both the firm, and the heir, were impressed with the Nature Conservancy's record and preparation and that the sale of the optioned land was probably consistent with the family wishes.It's her (the heir's) wish, and we think it was probably Mr. Pratt's wish, to prefer a sale to a Conservancy buyer and we're thrilled that the Nature Conservancy has entered into this agreement, Turner said.She wasn't alone.Reserve manager Rob Harbor said that Conservancy's acquisition and option represent vital protection for the area.This gives us a chance to save what I consider to be the most important pieces of the reserve, Harbour said. Places people have loved for years, but didn't even realize were at risk.All the parties involved in the Conservancy's acquisition are quick to point out that the deal, won't be a done deal, unless the Conservancy can raise $5 million by May 15.Five million dollars is a lot of money for us to raise. It's a stretch for us, said Curt Soper, director of conservation programs for The Nature Conservancy.Soper said the mood within the agency was one of excitement and concern.This is something we cannot afford to fail at, it's too special of a place, too beautiful of a place, he said. Its an interesting place for us and an amazing mix of natural and the cultural heritage. We've been working at this for a long time and the ball's in our court. We have the chance to do something special for the state and the entire northwest and we can't afford to fail.While attorney Turner said it was unknown as to whether the heir was anxious to sell the land, she did say that the inheritance taxes would amount to about $2.5 million.As news of the acquisition leaked out Tuesday, legislators were quick to offer encouragement.Sen Slade Gorton, who has already secured $2.5 million for use by Ebey's Landing Historical Reserve, pledged to work to support the reserve's work in the future.So did Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen (D-Camano Island)This is a fantastic opportunity to safeguard a place I have come to to love both as a legislator and a resident of Island County, Haugen said. I'm grateful to the Conservancy for its leadership in this venture and to Mr. Pratt for his foresight. As for The Nature Conservancy's plans for the properties, Powell said its abiding goals were to, Not only protect the site's unique biological diversity , but also the site's great historical legacy as well.Powell said examples of the land's biological diversity and value includes Perego's Lagoon, one of the largest unprotected coastal lagoons left in the state and the forest bordering the bluff, which includes 250-year-old Douglas Firs, scattered Western Hemlock and Grand Fir trees.The reason it's important is that it's a really large example of the forest community that used to be fairly widespread in the Puget lowlands, Powell said.The Conservancy also wants to protect one of the state's few, robust sites for Golden Paintbrush and the Ferry House, which is one of the oldest buildings on Whidbey Island. The Conservancy will donate the house to the National Park Service.But again, Powell said, the goal was essentially to leave well enough alone.Basically our plan is to leave it as it is and make sure there is no development there in the future, Powell said. To work with the local community, the trust board and the parks service to keep it in the use that's it's currently in and be very protective of the existing uses there.What the Pratt family did in the last 100 years is what we would like to do in the next 100 years, Powell said. And that's leave it in its natural state.These land parcels are included in the Nature Conservancy's acquisitionAbout 147 acres donated to the international, non-profit conservation group by the executors of Pratt's estate includes: Some 102 acres of beach and bluff property and Perego's Lake, a coastal lagoon with several habitats as well as numerous shorebirds and waterfowl which has been identified as one of the 20 most significant coastal wetlands in the state. The Jacob Ebey House and block house, built after Isaac Ebey homesteaded the property known as Ebey's Prairie in 1851. The Ferry House, built in1860, and 45 acres of adjacent farmland. The Conservancy will donate the Ferry House to the National Park Service and will sell a conservation easement on the farmland to the park service. The Conservancy will create an endowment with the proceeds from the sale of the easement, which will be used for needed repairs to the house. The Trust Board of Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve will oversee management of the house as well as the endowment funds.The Conservancy has obtained an option on another 380 acres which it will purchase if it can raise $5 million by May 15. The bulk of this purchase includes a 350-acre mature coniferous forest that flanks the bluff. In addition, the Conservancy has taken an option on about 20 acres of forest land above the Ferry House. About The Nature ConservancyThe Nature Conservancy is a private, non-profit conservation organization that has branches in each of the 50 United States and several countries around the world.It's stated mission is to preserve plants, animals and natural communities, and the diversity they represent, by protecting the lands and waters they inhabit.Using a science-based, cooperative approach, the Conservancy has protected more than 10 million acres of native forests, wetlands and grasslands throughout the US and Canada since 1951.Since then, it has also helped develop protection plans for more than 55 million acres in Latin America, the Caribbean and the Pacific.The Nature Conservancy has more than 1 million members worldwide and along with various foundations and corporations, has been able to acquire more than 1,600 preserves in the United States, the largest private system of nature sanctuaries in the worlds.Since its inception in Washington State in 1961, the Nature Conservancy of Washington has attracted more than 34,000 members and helped protect more than 14,000 acres in critical nature areas throughout the state.It owns and manages 37 preserves in Washington and has helped establish many others with public and private help.On Whidbey Island, some of the areas where the Nature Conservancy has become involved, include:The Lake Hancock PreserveDeception Pass State ParkOngoing studies of Golden Paintbrush populations in various areas."