Nature Noted

Notes on a changing Nature

Location: Bellville, Texas, United States

I never would have predicted this one

Monday, November 29, 2004

World Watch & TNC square off

In the land of sometimes it's better not to respond...... Here's an interesting exchange on the relationship between the big dog conservancies and indigenous people. The first is a pdf (reg.req) from a World Watch Magazine article by Mac Chapin that indicts The Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund, and Conservation International for basically running roughshod over the native people primarily in South America. A very condensed version is that the three groups have given lipservice to dealing with the natives... but in reality are compromised because what the Indigenous people think is best for themselves is often counter to the what the scientists see as best for biodiversity and the fundraisers see as best for keeping the corporate and governmental funders happy. So far I've only seen what TNC president Steve McCormick has to say in response.
I only learned about the controversy because I read McCormick's response. But World Watch is obviously talking to the larger environmental community and the foundations that help fund it. So there must have been a calculation at TNC headquarters that this shot couldn't be ignored.
The accusing article can probably be summed up by this quote on page 6.

"They see themselves as scientists doing God's work, " says one critic, poing out the conservationist's sense of a "divine mission to save the Earth". Armed with science, they define the terms of engagement. Then they invite the indigenous residents to participate in the agenda that they have laid out. If the indigenous people don't like the agenda, they will simply be ignored."

McCormick's response politely agrees that the article raises important issues about the need for dialogue.... then says it's a bunch of hooey. The nut of his argument.....

"Mr. Chapin’s underlying premise – that large international conservation groups are by their very nature incapable of effectively working with indigenous and traditional peoples – is simply incorrect.
Such a premise suggests that any organization working in disparate locations around the world and receiving significant individual, governmental or corporate support should not even attempt to work in areas with indigenous populations for fear of imposing foreign priorities and irreparably harming traditional lifestyles."

It's funny, if you substitute "indigenous people" for "Oregon residents" (see the article below) and the big three conservancies for government, you have pretty much the same conflict. It boils down to figuring out the questions... do people have a place in the wilderness, and if they do, how big of a place should they have? If the scientists' mission from God conflicts with the locals' God given right to do what they want to do with their land, who wins?
All topics for exploring.... but my bit of advice, even when saving the earth, a little listening and a touch of humility go a long way.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Oregon and the politics of Land Use

Oregon's voters have thrown an apparent wrench in the land planning movement. The voters approved Measure 37, which essentially grandfathers land that was owned before strict land use zoning went into effect. Here's a synopsis. There's debate on both sides about what it really means. Will there be an avalanche of lawsuits as land owners seek relief, trying to get money out of the governments that restricted development usage on their land, or are there just a few properties that have been owned long enough to make a real difference?
I think the importance of all this beyond Oregon is the fundamental misunderstanding about the relationship between Americans and property. Not having set foot in Oregon, I can only look at the tea leaves in what has been written about land use policy there. It has always been portrayed as one of those places where planning works. That the cities are more livable, and the farmlands and wilderness are more preserved. And perhaps that really is so. But it's always a mistake to underestimate American's mythology of their land and their property rights. I couldn't stand it when the homeowners association in my old Orlando neighborhood would tell me what color I could paint my fence. And I bought the home knowing that there would be restrictions. So I can imagine the anger when somebody drops a ton of money (or Dad and Mom did) on a piece of property, and then can't sell it to maximize gain.
There are a couple of forces at play here. The first is an innate and growing mistrust of government. Second is market forces. Whether it's a desire to simply make more money, or just trying to keep financially afloat, landowners are skittish about restrictions on what they can do with their property. Combine the two, and it's that lumbering, unfeeling government stomping on my rights.
Land trusts run a big risk on running into this with a reliance on easements. Easements have become increasingly popular in the last decade. The owner sells away the right to develop the land, in exchange for cash or a tax break or both. Sounds great now, but I think we're going to see more and more trusts in court fighting to preserve developmental easements. They have many of the same characteristics of the Oregon planning laws. Somebody else telling me what I can do with my land. Particularly if I wasn't the person who signed that original deal. And just as in Oregon, I think the 30 year window of discontent is about right. Selling easements may make sense now, but in thirty years those pieces of paper may seem like ancient chains, just waiting to be broken.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Places to start

If you are interested in learning about land trusts, two websites serve as starting points. is the home site of the big dog in conservancy, The Nature Conservancy. is the site of the umbrella group that links most local trusts, The Land Trust Alliance. Both have good stories on how they work, and there is much talk of their successes.
For an interesting perspective on some of the problems with The Nature Conservancy in particular, and some land trusts in general, read the Washington Post series on the Nature Conservancy. here. Then I think that after you do, read the Conservancy's response to the series.
I've managed many, many investigative reports, and I think the Conservancy did a good job responding positively to the problems pointed out by the series. At least from the p.r. standpoint. First, it looks as though they were guilty as charged on several points, or a congressional inquiry wouldn't have started up. But to their credit, the Nature Conservancy folks seem to have acknowledged the problems and moved quickly to fix them. It also seems to have inspired a fair amount of hiring in the area of media relations specialists, which, if the right folks are hired, could go a long way toward helping prevent further public pummelings like this one.
In future posts, I'm going to look at the hiring spree that seems to be going on at TNC and other land trusts. It's a sure sign that someone thinks these things have a future.
Finally, in the land of dead tree processing, Richard Brewer's "Conservancy" is a great intro. It's an interesting, practical read. I got my copy from Amazon. All for now, Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Why Land Trusts?

So what's so fascinating about Land Trusts? It seems to me that they are a middle ground between what has become two stereotyped interest groups. The tree hugging, progress hating, granola munching, blue stated environmentalist vs. the land raping, SUV driving, steak eating, red stated developer. Like much else in America, the broad brush strokes have just enough truth to stick in the minds of those who don't pay much attention. I like the idea of the trusts, because they are a non-coercive way to achieve a mutual end. Save chunks of valuable land, but don't tick off the people who own the land. It's a third way to reach the goal of saving the planet for the kids and their kids. It's not the only answer, but it is an answer.

Getting Started

For the past few weeks I've been fascinated by the concept of Land Trusts. There's an overwhelming amount of what could be called "face to the world" information about the trusts. But being an old TV guy, I also like to know the rest of the story. So I'm going to explore what's going on below the surface as best as I can, while sitting on the outside. I thought it might be fun to post what I find out. Let's see what happens.....

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