Nature Noted

Notes on a changing Nature

Location: Bellville, Texas, United States

I never would have predicted this one

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Stars out west, Money down east

A northern California land trust is getting a boost from Mr. Sundance himself (seems a little old to still call him the Sundance Kid). Robert Redford is joining the advisory board of the Land Trust of Napa County. The Napa News says Mr. Redford owns land in Napa, and has helped bring in big bucks in past fundraisers.
But star power doesn't equal good old fashioned cash, particularly in Maine. This article in the Bangor News details the latest deal by the Maine Coastal Heritage Trust. The trust just paid $1.6 million for an island that had been in the same family for 50 years. But read the article and you understand why Maine is prime land trust territory. The MCHT has successfully raised $70 million of a $100 million capital fundraising campaign. On top of that, it's trying to convince the legislature to try again on a $30 million dollar bond issue to buy up land. I seem to remember that Maine has the highest number of conservancies in the country... now I know why. By the way, the MCHT is advertising for a development director on its job page... looks like they're doing pretty well without one.
Finally thanks so much to Jon Christensen at Conservation News and Gary Jones at Crumb Trail for their truly nice write-ups and links. Made my day.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

BINGO hits the fan

My, Dr. Chapin seems to have stirred up a little storm. Last month, I linked to an article in Worldwatch Magazine that took the big international non governmental organizations (BINGO) like The Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund, and Conservation International to task for running roughshod over indigineous people while trying to preserve wildlife. Gristmill notes the response is out, and my is there a lot of noise coming from all sides. The latest issue of Worldwatch has the readers' response.... 16 pages worth... what the editors say is the biggest response to anything they've ever published. It has rebuttals from the big 3 BINGO's defending their practices, a blistering letter from the Ford Foundation taking Dr. Chapin to task for what it calls factual errors, and letters from readers who say he hit the nail on the head.
Of the three letters from BINGO (I like that acronym), the WWF folks seem to me to be striking the right tone. They defend themselves, but in a roundabout way say, "hey, we think we're good, but there's so much anger out there, we're willing to take another look." The Ford Foundation letter raises some real questions about Chapin's reporting, but I think the other letters re-inforce that if he hasn't nailed all the facts, he has definitely hit a sore spot. You don't have to read all the letters, but if you have the time, they offer interesting perspectives on this hot issue.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Holiday slow

Not much going on in the world of conservancies..most shops are closed for the holidays. The overwhelming story continues to be the horror around the Indian Ocean. Here's the latest from Tsunamihelp blog. And here's an incredible series of satellite photos showing the tsunami hitting Sri Lanka from Digital Globe.
While we digest this terrible story, here's couple of positive nuggets to keep us going. The first, despite all the red and blue talk, Americans of all beliefs think that protecting the environment is a good thing. From Howlings.
Finally, details on a new discovery that could have big implications.... producing sophisticated products from cheap goods, using little energy. Crumbtrail has the story.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Logging by Conservancy

The Nature Conservancy is going to be in the logging business in the mountains of Virginia. Under a deal with a landowner in Tazewell County, the Conservancy will preserve more than 11,000 acres across three counties. The deal, detailed in calls for the conservancy to pay the landowner for the conservation easement, then supervise a sustainable logging plan designed to protect the watershed while providing income. The owner gets a percentage of the proceeds, with the rest going to pay for salaries and cost. I haven't seen many other land trusts this involved in logging, is this an unusual deal?
The Shirley Heinze Land Trust in Indiana is fighting to keep its tax exempt status, and to keep from paying four years of back taxes. A story link in the Gary Post Tribune has expired, but here's a synopsis in The Indiana Law Blog. The problem seems to be that the trust didn't develop a plan for developing the scattered properties as required by state law. The law has been changed, but these properties don't fall under it. It's a warning for land trusts to know the tax laws affecting them. Here's the plea from the trust in a letter to the editor for keeping the exemption.
Finally, it's FUN WITH GEOGRAPHY time. Try this cool game. (Thanks to Dead Armadillos). I ended up off by 3 miles.... not too bad.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

The Power of Persistence

Happy Boxing Day... a couple of items of note in the very slow world of land trusts.
The first is this article from the Baltimore Sun detailing a two man effort to save an island in Chesapeake Bay against high odds. Mainly indifference, ridicule and lack of money. Their persistence has finally paid off, proving that if you just keep trying, have the right connections and enough money, you can make a difference.
The second note is of the decision of Gary Davis to leave as director of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. Davis is leaving after just two years. He says he is leaving to begin a semi-retired life in North Carolina, where he hopes to work as a consultant with the University of Tennessee. The Conservancy plans a national search for his replacement.
Is it me, or does there seem to be a high level of turnover among conservancy and land trust executives? In TV, we're used to job churn. There are whole websites dedicated to tracking the comings and goings. I've dragged my poor wife through five TV markets in five years, but that's par for the course in TV. Somehow, I thought land trusts would be a bit more sedate. Am I wrong? I'd love to hear from those who know.
Finally, say a prayer for all those souls impacted by the earthquakes and tsunamis in South Asia. At last count, the toll was estimated at 10 to 13 thousand dead. On a recent trip I listened to a great book on tape about the last such disaster in that area, and the echos are eerily similar. The book is "Krakatoa, the day the world exploded" by Simon Winchester. Except for the exploding volcano, (admittedly, a big exception) the disasters are almost identical. I'm not a big books on tape fan, but I needed something for a long drive, and the topic intrigued me. Winchester is also the narrator, and a darn fine one at that.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

It's snowing in the Valley

Merry Christmas to all, and a happy White Christmas to all those folks in places that ordinarily don't see snow, like Louisiana, South Mississippi and South Texas. An inch and a half of snow in Brownsville? TWELVE inches in Victoria. Get out the videocams, gang. You're not going to see snow like this for a loooong time.
Thanks to Back 40 for this discussion link on The Newshour on what the changes in the forest rules mean. Again, on the surface this all makes sense, the devil will be in the execution.

Friday, December 24, 2004

The Christmas Week Surprise

It's always been a PR truism, that if you want to get a bit of bad news out with a minimum of attention, you slip out a press release just before 5 PM on Friday. When the various media outlets get ahold of it, anyone who can comment has gone home. Besides that, Friday evening broadcasts and Saturday morning newspapers have the smallest audiences of the week. If you want to dump really controversial news, slip it out just before a major holiday when almost no one is paying attention.
So what to make of the timing of the Bush Administration's decision to overhaul the rules on managing the nation's forests? To be fair, at least it came out in the beginning of the week. It's not like it came out today, on Christmas Eve. Still, it's curious timing. I can only guess that one of two things happened. One, there was an end of the year deadline for getting the rules out, so they're out. The other is the Interior Department folks knew this was going to be a hot potato, so they decided to slip it out now, when there's not much time for a furor to develop.
Looking at the highlights of the decision, no one should really be surprised. It's not like Bush didn't campaign on these kinds of changes. They look to be popular with industry and unpopular with environmentalists. Big shock there.
Jonathan Adler over at The Commons appears to be coming down on the side of "it's not so bad". Bob Whitson at Howling at a Waning Moon comes down on the side that believes the timing is no accident, and that the administration is dumping an extremely unwelcomed Christmas surprise on the country. Gristmill goes with the Friday surprise theory as well.
Over the course of the next year, I'll try to keep up with what the changes are turning out to be in reality. One thing seems sure, suddenly regional forest managers have become some of the most powerful unelected public officials in certain states. How they execute this plan will reverberate for years.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Crown of the Continent

Nothing like a winter storm in the south to remind you that nature is still the mightiest force on the planet. Memphis is at a standstill as ice and sleet and various forms of frozen precipitation conspire to make walking outside a workshop on shoe traction. The best thing to do at a time like this is break out a little red wine and blog.
Of all the items in the "in" box, this one caught my eye. The Nature Conservancy of Canada and Canadian timber company Tembec have reached a deal to protect 100,000 acres in British Columbia. The deal is a combination of purchasing land along the Elk River and buying conservation easements to prevent future development. It doesn't prevent Tembec from harvesting timber in the area, but the company pledges to do so in an environmentally friendly manner. The deal is being called one of the largest of its kind in North America, and preserves a key piece of the area called The Crown of the Continent. It's an area of 10 million acres, stretching from Montana into Canada along the Continental Divide.The deal's aim is to protect "fragmentation zones"...big swaths of wilderness in danger of being isolated by surrounding development. Big "ups" to Tembec for realizing that doing good can be good for the company. On the surface, the only thing Tembec gets out of this is the possibility of a tax break, but mainly the chance to be recognized as an environmentally friendly and aware company.
On the PR front, it's a little odd that the only news on this from the Nature Conservancy is on TNC Canada's website. Nothing from the main TNC website. Missed opportunity, gang.
While reading the above coverage in the Missoulian, I found this link to Good daily coverage of what's going on in the Rocky Mountain region. Check out this series on a sustainable approach to life in the West. It's by Courtney White of the Quivera Coalition. The coalition is dedicated to promoting sustainable farming and ranching in the West. I love the invitation to join the Radical Center. Read the manifesto. They're really onto something here.
Finally, thanks to Dave Greene at Baysense for the notice and nice words. Dave's been spending a lot of time reformatting, and it really looks good.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Gone to Texas

No more blogging for a few days, we're off to Texas to see the in-laws at the ranch. Thanks to "Back 40" for the suggestions on other links. Back 40 is mysterious mind behind Crumb Trail. He also warned me in the comment below that I might not want to be seen linking to his page. I think that was done with half a smile. Don't worry, I'm happy to link to anyone with an interesting opinion. I'm doing this to learn about land trusts, environment and the world of environmental politics, and to teach myself a little webpage knowledge. I know that blogging tends to be like high school, you hang out with "your kind". But all views are welcomed here. You can't learn if you're not challenged by new information and opinions. It's up to each of us to come to our own conclusions.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Conservancies the World Round

As I read more about land trusts and conservancies, I realize this truly is a worldwide phenomenon. Check out this article from There the issue for one conservancy is the number of cattle that can be carried on the land at once. And check out the spelling for the conservancy.... adding letters all the time.

Speaking of learning all the time, I enjoyed the Q&A feature in Grist Magazine with Kevin Doyle. Kevin is with which is an organization that helps place professionals in environmental fields. Marvelous website, chockful of great links. I'm going to add a permalink for them.

Finally, I've added a few links for environmental blogs. The latest is The Commons which takes a free market approach to saving the environment. Can anyone suggest other good environmental blogs, particularly those which look at trusts and conservancies? All suggestions are welcome.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Great Article for Anyone Interested in Land Trusts

A bull market in land preservation
Some free-market environmentalists see private ownership through trusts and conservation easements as compatible with state efforts to save rural acreage.

That's the headline from this terrific article from the Baltimore Sun. (registration is required but it's free). It really lays out the case for working with private land trusts, as more and more people start to doubt whether their state and federal governments are going to do the right thing and preserve wild lands. Anyone who handles websites for trusts might want to think about linking to this one. The Nature Conservancy takes a few (accurate but unfair) shots, and might want to work on the reporter for a followup story highlighting the good that it does. But everyone else should share early and often.

Also, thanks to Bob Whitson for his nice note. Bob writes the Howling at a Waning Moon blog which I've read for some time, and put in my permalinks on the left. If you haven't checked it out, you're missing a valuable resource. Welcome, Bob!

Finally, JOB OF THE DAY. The California Rangeland Trust is looking for a Director of Planning and Development. Looks like a big job for a worthy organization.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Saving land and Christmas at the same time

Good news out of Michigan, where a combination of local intitiative, state and federal dollars, and help from the Nature Conservancy is helping to preserve what's being termed spectacular coastline along Lake Superior. Coverage here and an editorial in support of the actionsfrom the Detroit Free Press.

And folks in South Dakota have hit upon an interesting way to remove cedar trees to let native prairie grass flourish. Free Christmas trees for the taking! What a great way to expose a conservancy area to the public, while getting some help with a stewardship issue. Nicely done.

Saturday Morning Headlines

Families who helped keep dam off New River in the 60's use conservation easements to keep river wild for years to come.

Can I pick 'em or what? More info on yesterday's JOB OF THE DAY from the Ann Arbor News.

Today's JOB OF THE DAY. TNC is looking for a Project Manager for the Cache River in Arkansas. We'll see if this job gets a newspaper writeup!

Finally, here's the text ofWangari Maathai's Nobel Peace Prize lecture. Here's more coverage of the ceremony from an African perspective from All Africa. As a complete aside, anyone with any interest in Africa should check out All Africa. Great website that keeps up with the news on that all too often forgotten continent.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Genuine Holiday Cheer

How about spreading a little joy today? Wangari Muta Maathai today became the first environmentalist to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Here's a wonderful interview on NPR with her before the ceremony. Here's coverage of the ceremony. When I can find the text of her speech, I'll post it. Plant a tree, make some peace!

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Random Notes - 12/9/04

County property taxes go to buy up land in Washington state.

TNC buys Idaho ranch with eye to selling it to private holders and state. County leaders said not to be thrilled, but could make newly public river an area asset.

TNC picks Quickbird for satellite imagery. Press release says it will be used to track conservation progress throughout world.

JOB OF THE DAY - It's a part-time gig, but Livingston Land Conservancy is looking for a land protection/membership development specialist. Livingston county is in Michigan between Detroit and Lansing, north of Ann Arbor. Live there for a while and loved it. But hurry, the job closes 12/15.

Finally, SLATE says blockbuster author Michael (Jurassic Park) Crichton's latest bogey men are environmentalists. See, I told you ecoterrorism would backfire.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

The Dangerous allure of Monkey Wrenching

It was fun when Edward Abbey wrote about it. Monkey wrenching. Throwing a big ole monkey wrench into the wheels of progress to preserve land we love. But beneath it all, violence is violence. And the deeply annoying thing about the latest apparent incident of ecoterrorism and the attention it is drawing is that in the long run it does absolutely no good, only damage. Damage to the homeowners, damage to the environmental movement. It reinforces the image of wild eyed tree huggers. As I get older, I realize that life really is compromise. Can't save this wetland? Fight as hard as you can, and then move on. You will win some, you will lose some. But fight the war to win. The Maryland case will literally be a pyrric victory. A few homes that shouldn't be where they are will be burned. But they'll be back. And the real victims will be people who care about the environment.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Land Management tools

This was posted on the Yahoo group, can anyone with any real knowledge help Jay?

"does anyone working for a land trust have a preferred policy to use as a land management tool?
I am interested in possibly doing a study on the most effective policy alternative chosen."
Jay Bibby
Ann Arbor,MI

Welcome Yahoo Land Trust Group

Welcome to everyone from the Yahoo Land Trust Group. If you're interested in joining, it can be found at Yahoo groups. There are 250 members... but doesn't seem to be too much activity. Let's see if we can stir some up.

The IRS will see you now

Among those things you never want to hear in the same sentence, IRS and audit. Land Trust Alliance President Rand Wentworth has an open letter to land trusts about the IRS's new focus on abuse of conservation easements. The easements are extremely attractive when used correctly, but there are enough examples of abuse to make anyone want to go slowly while the IRS has them on the radar. Anyone considering an easement should read the letter.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Land Trusts for People

Here's a twist on land trusts. The object isn't to save ecosystems, but to offer affordable housing. Check out the article.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Getting on TV

I had an interesting experience the other day that may prove instructive for anyone wondering how to get your message out to the media. The Memphis Commercial Appeal had a story on a project by the Corps of Engineers. The Corps is spending millions to fix a project on the Wolf River. Of course, the project they're fixing is their own, from 20 years ago. We had a reporter who needed a story that day, so we thought this would be an interesting one to do. First it's visual, it's accessible, it's tax dollars at work, and it could probably be turned quickly (logistics being a ruling fact of life for local television). I know there is an active land trust that works along the river, The Wolf River Conservancy. No one from the conservancy was quoted in the article, just the Corps spokesperson. I always think it's important to try to have more than one perspective on a story, so I found the number for the conservancy. Our reporter contacted the Executive Director, he said he'd be happy to do an interview. The Corps spokesperson said yes too. So the crew heads out to shoot the story. When I read the script, there was no one from the conservancy, just two people from the Corps. Where's the conservancy guy? Turns out he never showed for the interview. I don't know how the mix-up happened. The reporter says she even called his office to find out where he was, was told he was supposed to be there... but no interview. So we did the story anyway, but it was totally from the Corps of Engineers perspective.
I'm sure there was a good reason for the no-show, but it was a shame. Local television, for better or worse, doesn't do that many environmental stories. Here were two stories on the environmental impact of a corps project, one newspaper, one tv, and the local environmental group that knows the most about the situation is never even mentioned. How can that be avoided?
The first, is make sure you make contact with all the media in your area. Know who the reporters are who will be doing environmental stories. Know the assignment desk people at the TV stations. Make sure they have your numbers. Drop by one day with some coffee mugs with your organization's name on it. Suggest story ideas from time to time. Don't be a pest, but make sure people know who you are and how to get in touch with you.
If a story comes out that you should have been in but weren't, make sure you call the reporter. In a best case scenario, you may be able to offer up enough extra information to prompt a follow-up story, focused on your angle. At the very least, the reporter will remember you next time.
Finally, if an opportunity to get your message comes along, jump on it. Immediately. TV particularly is time sensitive. The difference between chosing stories can be as simple as the time you are available for an interview. Unless this is considered to be such a big story that the reporter has to wait... putting the interview off by a couple of hours may be enough to kill the story all together. If you become known as someone who is either always available for a story, or get quickly line up an expert who will also be available, you will get more stories. It's as simple as that. It's a two way street, if you can make the reporter's job easier, the reporter will make your job of getting your message out just as easy.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Dam Government

It's the Bush Administration's version of "not just no, but hell no." The Feds rule out the possibility of taking down dams just to save a few salmon. Here's the article in the New York Times. Makes federalism look better all the time.

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