Nature Noted

Notes on a changing Nature

Location: Bellville, Texas, United States

I never would have predicted this one

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Fruit of the Vine

Can Wine save the Shenandoah Valley from overdevelopment? An editorial in a valley newspaper proposes trading conservation easements for development rights. The easements would be used for grapes.
Here's the argument...There is a gold rush under way in Virginia. But the treasure under pursuit is not a precious metal. Rather it is a fruit, a golden-colored grape.
From Berryville in the north down to Roanoke in the south, dot-com millionaires, celebrities, retired civil servants, governors and apple farmers are turning fallow pastures and orchards into row after row of wine grapes........
The winemakers of Virginia, an intrepid group of conservationists, realize they could share goals with local governments to save Virginia from the encroaching sprawl by ensuring that much of Virginia, and the Shenandoah Valley in peculiar, remained as agricultural land - which is to say, vineyards - forever.
With development companies eyeing large swaths of land in the valley, local officials must begin to set up an area plans. Realizing that you couldn't halt development, officials must decide to strike a bargain. Anyone who wants to build would have to set aside land that could be used only to grow grapes.
It would not work for county officials to say, you can never build anything here. That takes away folks personal property rights. However, you're looking at a viable agricultural business that can save farmland and the farmers as well as hopefully bring tourism into the area, which also helps other local businesses. Developers must essentially offer a trade. For each house built, and for each acre of land they wish to use, they must buy an easement on 1 acre of land that guarantees its use either to plant vines or trees, or for open space.
Luring wine tourists
It could result in a sort of planned wine country, complete with golf courses and a green belt not at all unlike NAPA Valley. This will make the valley an increasingly pleasant option for day-trippers and other visitors who don't feel like enduring the slog that a trip to the Washington D.C. metro area can often entail.,

Not sure this plan would keep whatever wild places there are in the Valley wild, but it would be pretty.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

The City of Sore Shoulders

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, I just moved in from across town, and boy are my shoulders tired! The big move is over and thanks to help from my family and a team of strong movers, the Nature Noted world headquarters is officially back up and running. Special thanks to my long suffering and extremely efficient wife who has the entire house looking like we've lived here for years. Now.... on to the news.
Breaking News
Pennsylvania's Earth Conservancy is facing a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the mother of a 30 year old man who died when the vehicle he was riding in went off the road and into a waterhole. The suit accuses "the conservancy of failing to post the property, place a fence or other barricade around the property, maintain the property in a safe condition, warn the public of dangerous conditions and other violations." But " conservancy executive director Mike Dziak said the property was open to the public for hunting and other recreational activities in the manner of state game lands, but motorized vehicles are strictly prohibited. Dziak also said the property -- a densely wooded parcel popular for partying and four-wheeling -- is not routinely patrolled." The article says it's the second fatal accident on the property, five other people died in a similar accident in 1998.
Conservation Easement News
Jon Christensen is stepping to the fore in defense of conservation easements. Check out his defense with Terry Anderson of the easements in Tidepool . Jon also points out that easements are beginning to spread worldwide. A program is underway in Mexico by the International Community Foundation to buy easements along the coast of Baja to protect whales and other sea life.
Jon also reports that the Senate Finance Committee is expected to hold hearings April 5 on non profit governance, and may also release the results of the two year long investigation in the Nature Conservancy in the next month. Stay tuned.
In South Carolina The Beaufort Gazette is the latest media outlet to do a story on the importance of conservation easements there.
But while most legitimate land trusts are working hard to clear the name of conervation easements, there are others who still pushing for the type of easements that have caused Congress to investigate. A press release on the results of a survey by "the Golf & Resort Industry Team of Foley & Lardner LLP" discusses the problems of the declining number of golfers and says that "The findings show the majority of respondents are missing profit opportunities by failing to maximizing their tax incentives. This year, only about one in five respondents plan to utilize conservation easements, and just one half plan to take advantage of the depreciation of their greens and tees. These figures highlight an opportunity to educate the industry about methods to leverage the existing tax laws."
Wouldn't want to miss those profit opportunities now, would we?
Reaching Out
Finally, an article on AlterNet by Russ Baker argues that "Thus far, the environmental movement and progressives in general have not done nearly enough to engage the millions of Americans who hunt and fish. When they come to understand the direct consequences of the administration's steady unshackling of polluters, they will realize that there's more at stake in local, state and federal elections than the kind of gun they may carry. As for Christian fundamentalists, they have recently developed a vocal environmentalist wing, based on the religious conviction that humans should act as "good stewards," not despoilers, of God's green earth."
Mr. Baker might be on to something, but there already are conservation groups that have been reaching out to sportsmen and women for years. Memphis' own Ducks Unlimited is spreading the word on land preservation and conservation easements. Check out the page on how Ducks Unlimited is saving wetlands.
That's enough for now, I need another Advil.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005


Via Gristmill via livejournal. I checked the Scientific American website, and this is indeed a legit editorial. And as Dave at Grist says, it's a thing of beauty.

Okay, We Give Up
There’s no easy way to admit this. For years, helpful letter writers told us to stick to science. They pointed out that science and politics don’t mix. They said we should be more balanced in our presentation of such issues as creationism, missile defense and global warming. We resisted their advice and pretended not to be stung by the accusations that the magazine should be renamed Unscientific American, or Scientific Unamerican, or even Unscientific Unamerican. But spring is in the air, and all of nature is turning over a new leaf, so there’s no better time to say: you were right, and we were wrong.
In retrospect, this magazine’s coverage of socalled evolution has been hideously one-sided. For decades, we published articles in every issue that endorsed the ideas of Charles Darwin and his cronies. True, the theory of common descent through natural selection has been called the unifying concept for all of biology and one of the greatest scientific ideas of all time, but that was no excuse to be fanatics about it.
Where were the answering articles presenting the powerful case for scientific creationism? Why were we so unwilling to suggest that dinosaurs lived 6,000 years ago or that a cataclysmic flood carved the Grand Canyon? Blame the scientists. They dazzled us with their fancy fossils, their radiocarbon dating and their tens of thousands of peer-reviewed journal articles. As editors, we had no business being persuaded by mountains of evidence.
Moreover, we shamefully mistreated the Intelligent Design (ID) theorists by lumping them in with creationists. Creationists believe that God designed all life, and that’s a somewhat religious idea. But ID theorists think that at unspecified times some unnamed superpowerful entity designed life, or maybe just some species, or maybe just some of the stuff in cells. That’s what makes ID a superior scientific theory: it doesn’t get bogged down in details.
Good journalism values balance above all else. We owe it to our readers to present everybody’s ideas equally and not to ignore or discredit theories simply because they lack scientifically credible arguments or facts. Nor should we succumb to the easy mistake of thinking that scientists understand their fields better than, say, U.S. senators or best-selling novelists do. Indeed, if politicians or special-interest groups say things that seem untrue or misleading, our duty as journalists is to quote them without comment or contradiction. To do otherwise would be elitist and therefore wrong. In that spirit, we will end the practice of expressing our own views in this space: an editorial page is no place for opinions.
Get ready for a new Scientific American. No more discussions of how science should inform policy. If the government commits blindly to building an anti-ICBM defense system that can’t work as promised, that will waste tens of billions of taxpayers’ dollars and imperil national security, you won’t hear about it from us. If studies suggest that the administration’s antipollution measures would actually increase the dangerous particulates that people breathe during the next two decades, that’s not our concern. No more discussions of how policies affect science either—so what if the budget for the National Science Foundation is slashed? This magazine will be dedicated purely to science, fair and balanced science, and not just the science that scientists say is science. And it will start on April Fools’ Day.
Okay, We Give Up

Saving Arizona

When the West was young, land was cheap. That was one of the great things about the West. Now that the West is filling up, land is the new gold, the new oil, the new hot commodity. And the new land rush is having some interesting repercussions.
First in Arizona. When Arizona became a state, the federal government gave the state over 9 million acres. That property is called Trust Land. Trust land is supposed to be sold to the highest bidder, with the proceeds going to fund state education. But as this week's High Country News points out, drought and runaway growth are threatening to undermine Arizona's future. That why land trust (as opposed to trust land) advocates are fighting to make sure that as the state sells off the trust land, some of it is set aside as conservation areas. But the problem is, how much? The Arizona Capitol Times reports that after a stalemate in the legislature, there is some movement toward resolving the issue.
"(Sen. Jake) Flake says the chief hang-up is conservation land.“The deal breaker has been the amount of conservation land to set aside,” he told Arizona Capitol Times in a March 15 interview. “If we could just come out with some reasonable requests from the conservationists, the environmentalists, on the amount of conservation land.”
Mr. Flake said the Legislature designated 44,000 acres for preservation in the Phoenix and Tucson areas. “Forty-four-thousand acres isn’t a small amount,” he said. “If you were develop that 44,000 acres, we’d be taking in $10-15 billion.”
Key elements of the original package would have included setting aside approximately 700,000 acres for conservation as open space either without compensation for the trust or at discount prices and giving the Land Department new powers to plan and dispose of land.
Pat Graham, Nature Conservancy state director, said conservation of environmentally sensitive rural lands couldn’t be ignored while steps are taken to bolster the Land Department’s planning and sales processes.

If the legislature can't come to a deal, Governor Janet Napolitano is pushing to put the issue to a statewide referendum.
In Nevada, the sale of similar land has become so valuable, that the Federal Government wants a big piece of the action.
A free article in High Country News shows how the sale of land that is supposed to raise funds for conservation could be used to lower the federal deficit.
Congress originally passed the Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act in 1998, to help accommodate rapid growth in Clark County. The law allowed the BLM to auction off some of its lands around Las Vegas. The proceeds were to be spent on local water infrastructure, recreation and conservation projects, and on educational programs and land-conservation initiatives throughout the state. There’s a lot of money coming in: Since the law was enacted, its land auctions have generated almost $2 billion. The latest sale, held in February, netted more than $602 million. Currently, all the proceeds remain in Nevada. But now, President Bush wants to use part of the windfall to help pay down the ballooning federal deficit. The president’s 2006 federal budget lists his new plan as a "mandatory proposal" that would divert 70 percent of the Nevada land-sale profits into the national treasury. "The land sales have gone way beyond our expectations," says John Wright, a Department of Interior spokesman. "Redirecting a portion of the revenue won’t interfere with the intention of the law. There is plenty of money to go around and still meet the requirements of the act." Eighty-five percent of the money is currently set aside to build parks and trails, and to acquire environmentally sensitive lands, such as breeding grounds for the endangered southwestern willow flycatcher, and critical habitat for endangered pupfish and speckled dace. The act also funds the Clark County Multi-Species Habitat Conservation Plan, along with projects to improve the clarity of Lake Tahoe. The state education fund receives 5 percent of the revenue, and the final 10 percent goes to the Southern Nevada Water Authority for infrastructure improvements
Paying down the national debt and funding public education are both worthy goals. But you have to wonder if the people of Arizona and Nevada are going to someday look back at the time they had a chance to preserve wild lands, and think that maybe their state and national leaders chose the quick fix instead of their long term futures.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Tanks a lot

There's an interesting struggle going on in near San Luis Obispo Ca. that's pitting public safety vs. public good. As told in the San Luis Obispo Tribune the Cambria Community Services District wants to build a half million dollar water tank or tanks on a sliver of land that currently has a conservation easement on it. The easement prohibits any structures on the land. The current tanks are too old and in danger of collapsing during an earthquake. The district wants to use just 6100 square feet of land adjoining its current property for the tanks. Sounds reasonable, right? Ok, add to the equation that the easement on the adjoining land is there to protect one of five remaining stands of Monterey pine in the world. Now it gets a little stickier. The rancher who owns the land is suing to block the tanks. Environmental groups and Greenspace, the Cambria Land Trust argue the district has other options, and could build the tanks on the existing property, that it's just trying to take the easiest route out. It will be interesting to see how this one plays out.
Ann Jennings of the Congaree Land Trust has an op-ed piece in Columbia, S. C.'s paper The State that argues for the value of conservation easements. Using many of the talking points put forward by the LTA, Ms. Jennings localizes the story by pointing out that South Carolina leads the nation in using conservation easements to preserve land. It's a well written article, and is a good model for any trust trying to get local newspaper coverage on the conservation easement deduction.
And blogging will continue to be sporadic over the next few days. We're getting ready to move Nature Noted World Headquarters to the new Burns family compound. (The new place really just has an old smokehouse that's been screened in, but that's two buildings on the property, so that's good enough for a compound in my book.) And don't forget to root for OSU against Arizona in the big dance. Go Pokes!

Thursday, March 17, 2005

It's (almost) Oil Over

Fellow Kelley Comet and renowned Muckraker Robert Bryce has an article in Salon this week outlining the predictions of an Petroleum research firm predicting when the world's largest oil companies will hit their peaks in production. If the analysts at John S. Herold, Inc. are correct, the beginning of the end is near. Robert writes...."Executive vice president Richard Gordon, who heads Herold's global strategies team, says the firm's goal in doing peak-production estimates for individual oil companies is simple: "If the dinosaurs are going extinct, we are trying to figure out which ones are going to go extinct the soonest."Herold's projections have enormous ramifications both for stockholders in the major oil companies and for every energy consumer on the globe. If Herold is correct, and the world's biggest oil companies cannot increase their production in the coming years, then several things appear certain:
Oil prices -- which are already at record levels -- will continue rising as demand outstrips supply. In a few years, gasoline prices of $2 per gallon could seem like a bargain.
State-owned oil companies like Mexico's Pemex, Venezuela's PDVSA (Petrolos de Venezuela) and Saudi Arabia's Saudi Aramco may be unable to increase their production enough to meet burgeoning global demand.
The producers who belong to the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, and Saudi Arabia in particular, may have even more leverage over the global oil market in the coming years.
The United States will be ever more reliant on oil imported from countries filled with people who don't like George W. Bush or his policies.

Better fill up the tank now.
Congratulations to Jon Christensen who has written a spirited defense of the conservation easement deduction in a letter to the editor of the Washington Post. The letter is co-signed by Terry Anderson of the Hoover Institution, bringing serious conservative credentials to the conservation debate. Nicely done.
And a 30 year effort to preserve the area originally known as the Gillette Ranch in the Santa Monica Mountains of California has finally yielded a positive result for a coalition of trusts and governmental agencies. The coalition is spending $35 million to preserve the 585 acre tract that is currently the home of a Japanese college.
And so far we have one vote for a hybrid of land trust and conservancy ... "land conservancy" is Japhet's suggestion. It's also been pointed out on the land trust listserv that "conservation trust" is being used by one Florida group. Other thoughts?

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

The Soft Sell

The Nature Conservancy has launched its public effort on behalf of saving the conservation easement deduction with an educational program on the benefits of easements. The Conservation Easement segment of the website is designed as a primer on the benefits of easements and is the feature headline on the TNC front page.
The new Executive Director of the Land Trust of Virginia sees opportunity in the recent Supreme Court ruling there shooting down current land planning measures. The Leesburg Today profiles Tim Warman, noting he took his new job just two days before the ruling. But Warman thinks trusts have a duty to step up while governmental bodies try to figure out how to proceed.
"“Anyone concerned about Virginia’s quality of life and economic competitiveness should be very worried. This makes the work of the private nonprofit more important than ever.” Warman pointed out that not only conservationists should be concerned. “We’re not just losing our past. We’re defacing our future,” he said. The Supreme Court decision points out that there is a role for privately owned trusts in land conservation, Warman said this week. “You can’t depend on the government to do everything,” he said. He predicted there will be a number of landowners who will come to the land trust now to talk about placing their land under conservation easement because of concern over the impact of the court decision and because they offer landowners a “real option” to development and an opportunity to protect their land. "
Finally, an interesting debate has popped up on the Land Trust listserv over the use of "land trust" or "conservancy".... is there a preferred term? In my short time doing this, I've noticed that the terms seem to be interchangible, but for public clarity, there could be some value in deciding to go with one term or the other. Thoughts?

Monday, March 14, 2005

A Three Year Old's World

Back from the wilds of South Mississippi, and trying to catch up. Given the four day weekend I just had, I was particularly taken by an exchange Jon Christensen began at the Uneasy Chair on a new book called Killing the Natives: Has the American Dream Become a Nightmare? by Guy McPherson. More precisely, the discussion revolves around part of the book's dedication and afterword that seems to make the choice of being childless more moral than having children. The quote is " "On the most important issue, I am atypically childless. I made this decision on moral grounds more than twenty years ago."
Once you get past the chest thumping, back slapping (difficult to do at the same time) tone of that sentence, there's nothing really wrong with it. But I guess what made me ruminate on it was the experience of being a dad. My three year old daughter and I spent four great days with my dad, camping in the backyard, exploring the beach, catching beads at a St. Patrick's day parade and just hanging out. We were able to introduce her to the joys of warm beignets at the Cafe DuMond in the French quarter. Yeah, I know, I'm just teaching my child bad habits of finding happiness in fried things with sugar. So sue me. we both loved it.
I can't speak for others, but being a Dad has made me more appreciative of the world. I spent 20 years in news before my wife and I had our daughter, and I know it has completely changed my perspective. I see people more as individuals rather than theoretical groupings. I am more conscious of the fragility and wonder of life.
I know that all the physical things in this world are finite, and that overconsumption is a major threat to the world and to my daughter's future. I'm glad that Mr. McPherson has made a choice that makes him happy. But I'm pretty happy about the choice my wife and I made too.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Blogging break

I'll be on a little bit of a blogging break for a few days. I'm taking my three year old for her first camping trip. Although we may not go much farther than her grandfather's backyard. Back the beginning of next week.

Monday, March 07, 2005

North Woods for Sale

Hunters and outdoor enthusiasts in northern Minnesota are finding fewer and fewer places to do their outdoor thing. The Duluth News Tribune details the transformation of the north woods from a place where timber companies owned huge tracts of land, allowing hunters access, to a place where big chunks have been sold off and developed. Much of the new private property is off limits to visitors.
"The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources reports that since 1989, 400,000 acres of private forest land have been lost permanently to development such as house and cabin sites, driveways, and roads. While public attention has focused on heated debates about logging and ATVs on state and federal land, the social, ecological and economic impacts of this massive private-land selloff could be larger, said Ron Nargang, state director of the Minnesota Chapter of the Nature Conservancy. Nearly half the state's northern forests are in private hands. "Minnesotans had come to see the timber company land as their own, pretty much as public land, and we assumed it would always be out there for us," Nargang said. "Now, it's getting sold off and developed. This has kind of caught us by surprise."
Most of the property is being sold to individuals as cabins and weekend retreats. The companies that are buying the land aren't interested in the land for timber, they see the value in the recreational use.
In the past decade, more than 13 million acres of private, industrial timberland has changed hands nationally -- an amount equal to six Yellowstone National Parks. Most of it was owned by former paper and mill companies that are getting out of the land business. And nearly all of it is being purchased by Timber Investment Management Organizations, or TIMOs.
Hunters are the most upset about the changes, losing access to land they had come to consider their own 'hunting grounds". So no hunting, no tree cutting, you'd think environmentalists wouldn't be upset about the change. Not so fast.
While the DNR can't stop companies from selling land, it has joined the Nature Conservancy, the Trust for Public Land and other groups to raise money -- including federal grants and state bonds -- to either buy the at-risk land outright or easements that would keep the land in conservation."...."The trend also is bad news for some birds and wildlife as the forest becomes fragmented into loosely managed and increasingly developed smaller tracts. Continued development is leaving disconnected pockets of the best habitat. Species from owls to woodpeckers depend on interior forest, away from the edges of forest where people, predators and competing species are waiting. Ornithologists say jays, crows, raccoons, cats and cowbirds typically don't thrive in extensive forests. But when a forest is fragmented, those species gain access to more of the land. Populations of several species of migratory forest birds already are crashing. Parceling off large tracts of land also makes it harder to manage for wildlife, removing options such as intentional fires and clearcutting. Some cabin owners are unwilling to have their nearby large trees cut, and even fewer are willing to allow fire or clearcutting, even if it helps species such as grouse or moose. "Divide a section up from one industrial owner to 16 new owners (of 40-acre tracts) and you have a bunch of driveways and cabins and new roads and lights. It affects wildlife. It affects timber management. You lose the connectivity," said Tom Duffus, state director of the Conservation Fund." You could call it the suburbanization of the North Woods.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Slow growth dying quick death

First Oregon, now Virginia is reversing some of the toughest slow growth rules in the country. Thursday the Virginia Supreme court threw out Loudon county's rules limiting development. As the Washington Post points out, the rules were actually thrown out on a technicality.... not enough notice was given before the rules were enacted. But the defacto result is a victory for property rights/pro-development (choose your own phrase) folks.
"Jurisdictions across the region, including Southern Maryland, Montgomery County and other parts of Northern Virginia, have sought to control rapid development through zoning restrictions and other measures. Loudoun's limitations were among the broadest. The Supreme Court did what some on the pro-development majority on Loudoun's Board of Supervisors have wanted to do since taking power last year. Supervisors who have long slammed the controls as an infringement on property rights appeared delighted with the court's ruling, and there was no indication yesterday that it would be appealed or that Loudoun officials would try to reinstate the regulations. Last night, supervisors were planning a special meeting on the decision. "This is a victory for property rights," said Supervisor Stephen J. Snow (R-Dulles), who argued that the rules were elitist and exclusionary. "The wrong now has been righted." The ruling represents a forceful victory for property rights advocates and real estate interests who have waged an impassioned, and well-funded, struggle against regulations imposed in 2003 that were designed to prevent the construction of thousands more homes among the fields, small towns and scattered subdivisions of upscale homes in western Loudoun. Those who fought the hardest against Loudoun's building restrictions said they were elated yesterday, and some said they were gathering to toast the decision.
As pointed out by several on the Land Trust listserv, the only way to ensure land stays undeveloped is to either buy it, or have property owners who place conservation easements on the land. If it's not voluntary, it's probably not going to work.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Sharpening the axe on sustainable forestry

The land management technique of sustainable forestry is in the spotlight again this week, and the light is getting pretty hot.
Via Tidepool comes this story from the Eugene Register Guard about this week's Public Interest Environmental Law conference (PIELC.ORG) at the University of Oregon. The issue is between those who favor some sort of sustainable forestry, or thinning, and those who oppose any kind of cutting at all. What's interesting is who is lining up on the various sides. According to the article...
"At the conference, members of the Sierra Club and the Native Forest Council will undergo their annual renewal of vows to end commercial logging on federal land. Meanwhile, the Cascadia Wildlands Project and the Oregon Natural Resources Council will argue that there should be more logging - and more logging jobs and wood for mills - on federal lands. They're talking about thinning, not clear-cuts.
But the very idea of environmentalists touting a logging regimen raises the hackles of some in the zero-cut crowd.
"I consider these (pro-logging) people either corrupt, naive or heavily indoctrinated lemmings and sheep," said Tim Hermach of the Eugene-based Native Forest Council, which has 3,000 members nationally.
In the topsy-turvy world of new environmentalism, the loudest voices for increased logging have emerged from the radical, tree-sitting Earth First! group. And the stubborn, zero-cut stance comes from the large and venerable Sierra Club.
A switch in philosophy
The environmentalists now in favor of logging have read scientific articles and come to the conclusion that more cutting would be better for the forests, said James Johnston, executive director of the Eugene-based Cascadia Wildlands Project, which has 600 members.
A series of studies out of Northwest universities in the past decade has shown that human-planted fir trees on federal land are unlikely to turn into old growth forests without thinning. "

The environmental debate is indeed changing.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Non-Profits in the Hot Seat

Land trusts that have been feeling pressured by the Senate Finance Committee should not feel alone. The entire American Non-profit sector is feeling the heat too. Today a special Panel on the Non-Profit Sector issued its interim report to the Senate Finance Committee. If you don't want to read the full report the Chronicle of Philantrophy has a good summary. Many of the issues being dealt with are ones trusts have become familiar with: assessing the valuation of land donations, transparency in finances, ethics rules for boards and increased audits. The full report from the panel should be out this summer. I could find only one land trust leader on the various boards, Steve McCormick from The Nature Conservancy, which also contributed financially to the project. Senate leaders seem to be taking the report seriously. However it shakes out, it looks as though operating every non-profit is going to involve more paperwork, and jumping through hoops, but it may be the only way to keep the scam artists from staining the good work that non-profits do in this country.

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