Columbia Land Trust is working with Trout Lake farmers to avert the fragmentation of the local landscape to the detriment of farms, a growing recreation economy, wildlife, and iconic open spaces.
Washington’s Trout Lake Valley might not be one of the Northwest’s most recognizable landscapes, but that has more to do with its remote location—set 20 miles north of the Columbia River—than a lack of scenery. Parted by the White Salmon River and flanked by the massive southern face of Mount Adams, the farmsteads and pastures of the Trout Lake Valley look like oil paintings brought to life.
Beyond breathtaking vistas, Trout Lake’s assemblage of farmland provides the broader Columbia River region with organic dairy products, as well as medicinal and tea herbs. The local community also relies on a burgeoning outdoor economy, accommodating Pacific Crest Trail hikers, touring cyclists, White Salmon River rafters, Mount Adams climbers, and wildlife watchers.
Core to all these pursuits is the preservation of open space that lends the region its character and natural beauty. Local residents know that it’s a matter of time before their stunning mountain views draw the next wave of residential and second-home development. The resulting fragmentation of fields and farmland would compromise vital wildlife habitat in addition to agricultural and recreation value. For 17 years, Columbia Land Trust has worked with the community, local farmers and biologists to preserve the organic agricultural history and protect a wide array of wildlife species.
In September, the Land Trust purchased a conservation easement* on 130 acres of the Justesen family farm, effectively ensuring that the property will stay in agriculture for future generations. The iconic Justesen site provides pasture for cows that are part of the first Organic Valley dairy in the state of Washington. Dairy cows graze across verdant pastures during the growing season and it’s common to find large elk herds and turkeys huddling there in winter.
The Justesens are the fourth landowners to work with the Land Trust in establishing easements in the Trout Lake Valley, and we are already working with a fifth and sixth to set aside more farmland. To date, we’ve protected 423 acres of agricultural land in the area.
We at the Land Trust are grateful to our funders, the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program and the Natural Resource Conservation Service, as well as to the staff at the Recreation and Conservation Office. We also thank the Justesen family, who donated part of the easement value and transaction costs.
This time of year, the late-day sun illuminates the freshly fallen snow on Mount Adams and golden groves of aspen below. Thanks to farming families with strong conservation values, these views will endure through time, along with a rich farming tradition.
*A conservation easement is a voluntary legal agreement between a landowner and a land trust or government agency that permanently limits uses of the land in order to protect its conservation values.