Conservation Profile: Barbara Arum
In 1993, Barbara Arum bought a house on four acres that run along a mountain stream. A longtime birder, she was blown away by the natural beauty of the property. “I used to travel a lot on birding trips, and when I walked the land I thought to myself ‘Oh my gosh, I pay to go see land that looks like this,” Arum says. “
The following year, when the adjacent 17-acre property came up for sale, Arum jumped at the chance to purchase it. “The land that was available backed onto a gun club, which made me nervous. I thought they might buy it, and then I would have gun club in my backyard,” she says. “So, I bought the land in order to preserve it, besides giving myself some protection.”
In the summer of 1996, Arum got unexpected neighbors when a family of beavers built their dam on the stream. She watched as the water level rose and rose, slowly flooding her yard and creating a lake. At first she tried to regulate the amount of water, but when that failed she surrendered to the beavers. “I got a lot more birds on the stream. I got inflatable rafts and kayaks, we would go out and spend day on water and have a picnic,” she says. “If you’re on the water and not doing anything, the wildlife doesn’t even know you’re there.” In winter she did tai chi on the ice in front of the dam and in spring she set up lawn chairs to watch the beavers come out and sun themselves.
Arum had lake in her yard for seven years before the beavers left and the water slowly receded, a natural process she watched with wonder. “I feel very badly about taking land from the animals that live here, putting up houses, pushing them out and giving them no place to be. That is part of what contributes to extinction. That’s why I wanted to preserve the land, not just for my own pleasure, but to keep it in nature for as long as it would be possible to do that.”
She began speaking to RELC about conservation easements in 2004, and completed the process two years later, protecting her two contiguous properties. “It is a wonderful thing to put your land in easement,” she says. The terms of her easement do not allow for further development, though they do permit a future owner to rebuild within the same footprint of Arum’s current house.
Since putting her land in easement, another property on Arum’s road came up for sale. She passed on the opportunity due to the inflated listing price, though it is a decision she still regrets. “I look at it as the only mistake in my life,” she says sorely. “I really wanted it. It would have given a thoroughfare for animals from Queens Highway all the way to Hill Road.” Though she isn’t the type to evangelize, Arum hopes others on her road put their land in conservation easements.
“To me it’s very important to save land for nature. I don’t go out and solicit it, it’s just the way I feel,” she says. “I am very very happy I did it. I just love it here. I consider this my sanctuary. And the beavers will be able to just keep coming.” And she’s right, after a seven-year hiatus, the beavers returned in 2017 and built two new dams.