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Conservation group focuses on education

Concerned about negative feedback and how its work is perceived by the public, the Farm, Forest and Open Space Task Force is turning its attention to education.
‘Education is the next step we need to do, and we need to do it well,’ said Jim Heitkemper, when the group finally held its February meeting last Wednesday night, about two weeks late. Heitkemper chairs the task force.
Realtor Greg Albers, an active member of the task force, said they need to address the ‘perception’ of what the impact of land conservation will be on property owners as the county develops a plan to conserve undeveloped land.
Most of the negative comments task force members have heard have come from the north part of the county.
Task force member Fred Uhl, a Palmyra farmer, suggested hosting a public hearing ‘to let the people hear exactly what we’re doing.’
Some members suggested having Scott Everett return to make another presentation. Everett, a regional director for the American Farmland Trust, led two public meetings a year ago February, one at St. Mary’s School in Lanesville and the other at the Leora Brown School in Corydon. Both meetings were well attended.
Everett, who has led at least nine Ultimate Farmland Preservation Tours ‘ a five-day bus trip to Maryland, New Jersey and Pennsylvania ‘ since 1998, talked about land fragmentation in other states and how to help control it. Everett, who stresses that he is not opposed to development, said there needs to be a ‘balance’ when it comes to development.
‘We’re developing all over (Harrison) County,’ Heitkemper said. ‘We’re doomed to continuing that way if we don’t do something.’
Education was listed as a ‘challenge’ at the task force’s January meeting when facilitator Larry Miles had the group brainstorm to prepare for its work this calendar year.
(The group was created by the county commissioners in June to identify productive agricultural and forest areas, as well as other desirable open space areas, in the county. The task force will also denote forces that contribute to fragmentation and conversion of farm land, forests and open spaces to other uses, and develop recommended strategies to protect and preserve identified areas.)
Also last week, a subgroup that was assigned to look at whether a government entity or a non-profit group should manage conservation easements reported that it believes a non-profit would be best.
A non-profit would be more likely to continue with the intent set forth by the Farm, Forest and Open Space group, as well as provide continuity, said Karen Dearlove, an ex-officio member.
With elected officials, goals and dreams change, she said.
The Harrison County task force is developing programs that are voluntary.
‘I’m still optimistic that we can get some development rights program going yet this year,’ Heitkemper said.
The task force anticipates making another report to the county council and commissioners possibly in June.
The group’s next meeting is Tuesday, March 29, at 7 p.m. in the conference room of Farm Bureau Insurance in Corydon. The meeting is open to the public.