The Biloxi office of the Land Trust for the Mississippi Coastal Plain is even busier than usual right now, as staff and Board members work together toward an important goal for the organization: reaccreditation. The LTMCP is the only land trust in the State of Mississippi awarded accreditation by the nationally recognized Land Trust Accreditation Commission, an honor bestowed on the LTMCP in 2009. The Commission requires reapplication every five years.
“This is a very tedious and time-consuming effort,” said LTMCP Board of Directors President Jon Bond, “but well worth it. There are only 230 accredited land trusts in the United States. Our organization likes knowing we operate at the very highest standard in our field of work.” The detailed reaccreditation application has several stages, involving a comprehensive self-assessment process, a review of compliance with approved organizational standards and procedures, and compliance with internal controls procedures.
Judy Steckler, Executive Director of the LTMCP, also believes all the effort is worth it. “Renewing our accreditation is important for many reasons. There are 88 practice standards set forth by the Land Trust Accreditation Commission, and their reviewers will assess how well we have complied with these standards over these past years. We were very proud to gain accreditation when we first applied, and we have made every effort over these past five years to not only keep up with the required standards but to exceed them.” The independent Commission, formed in 2006, is governed by a volunteer board of diverse land conservation and nonprofit management experts from around the country.
The Land Trust, a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, was formed in 2000 after meetings amongst community leaders recognized the need for an organization to lead area conservation efforts as the building boom began expanding along coastal cities. “The mission of our organization,” continued Bond, “is to conserve, protect and promote green spaces and open places that have ecologic, scenic or cultural significance within the six coastal counties that comprise the Mississippi Coastal Plain. We are supported by dues-paying individual and corporate members, and operate under the guidance of an appointed volunteer Board of Directors representing Pearl River, George, Stone, Harrison, Hancock and Jackson Counties. We make every effort to be a transparent organization, and retaining our accreditation is one way of assuring our supporters that we do what we say we are going to do.”
Judy Steckler, along with other LTMCP Board and staff members, recently participated in a national conservation conference in New Orleans. “I was so proud to hear our organization favorably mentioned by the Land Trust Alliance President Rand Wentworth,” said LTMCP Vice-President Melanie Allen. Wentworth gave the main address at the conference, which had over 1,800 attendees for the three day event. “When Rand began talking about the value of what our Land Trust has accomplished in restoration work in the Turkey Creek area of Gulfport, we were so excited. It is great to hear that people on the national level appreciate the work of a small land trust like ours here on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.” Steckler was a presenter at the conference, as well as offering her experience and perspective on two panel discussions. “Judy’s presentation about how the LTMCP adapted and progressed after suffering devastating losses from Hurricane Katrina was awesome and inspiring,” Allen continued, “I heard at least one person say it was the best presentation of any Rally he had attended in over a decade.”
The LTMCP also hosted one of the field trips associated with the conference. Partnering with the Wolf River Conservation Society, LTMCP representatives led about 45 people from conservation associations across the country on a 4.5 mile kayak and canoe paddle down the picturesque Wolf River. The LTMCP and the Wolf River group work together to conserve and steward protected areas along the River for more than 20 miles. “These folks were really surprised to see how beautiful South Mississippi is and we were proud to show them,” said Steckler.
LTMCP holds over 5,000 acres under their stewardship umbrella, with 1,041 acres added in 2012, an increase of 27% from the year before. In partnership with the Mississippi Forestry Commission, the LTMCP worked to acquire Mississippi’s First Forest Legacy Program conservation easement. This conservation easement acquisition culminated a three year effort to protect 518 acres on the Escatawpa River, a MS designated Scenic Stewardship Stream. Current LTMCP projects include working with the City of D’Iberville in the conservation of acreage along the Tchoutacabouffa River, and the development of an Artist in Residence program on their Twelve Oaks property in Ocean Springs on Fort Bayou. LTMCP received a grant of $3,800 from the Mississippi Arts Commission to develop the AIR program, designed to foster and promote the natural blending of the arts and conservation. On-going LTMCP projects include promoting marked “Blueways” on the Jourdan River, Red Creek, Old Fort Bayou and the Wolf River, and restoration of the Shaw Homestead, a historic property located in Poplarville that was settled in the 1880s. “The Mississippi Coastal Plain is a patchwork of diverse habitats and histories that can be found nowhere else in the world,” explained Steckler, ”These irreplaceable plant and animal ecosystems are inter-dependent, and they play essential roles in the quality of life in South Mississippi. These places are productive, fragile, and beautiful.”
LTMCP filed for reaccreditation earlier this year, and has devoted a considerable amount of staff time to this endeavor ever since. Materials will continue to be submitted through the beginning of next year with final determination of their application expected mid-2014. For more information about the Land Trust for the Mississippi Coastal Plain, those interested are encouraged to view their website is www.LTMCP.org.