Nature Noted

Notes on a changing Nature

Location: Bellville, Texas, United States

I never would have predicted this one

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Drilling the Seashore

This is one that just makes me sick. According to the L.A. Times four paragraphs tucked into the emergency military spending bill signed by President Bush allow oil companies to begin preliminary exploration inside the Gulf Islands National Seashore. As a preliminary step to drilling, the rider permits seismic testing, which involves detonating sound-wave explosions to locate oil and gas deposits in the park. Two of the five Mississippi islands are wilderness areas, and the environs are home to federally protected fish and birds, a large array of sea turtles and the gulf's largest concentration of bottlenose dolphins. The legislation marks the first time the federal government has sanctioned seismic exploration on national park property designated as wilderness — which carries with it the highest level of protection.
The rider was slipped in by Sen. Thad Cochran, who defends it as just looking out for Mississippi's interests.
The Cochran amendment sets the stage for sinking 16-story drilling platforms in state waters that would be in full view of residents and tourists who flock to the gulf's beaches. In the last 60 years, five wells have been drilled in Mississippi state waters, and none of them has produced oil or gas. But the state now contends that shallow deposits of natural gas could be tapped. Proponents of exploration said that state and federal regulation would continue to protect the islands and their wildlife. "By the time someone produces natural gas, they will have gone through a number of state agencies and a number of federal agencies," said Joe Sims, president of the Alabama and Mississippi division of the U.S. Oil and Gas Assn.
Moreover, he said, the economic boon to the state could be significant. "You don't know until you drill," Sims said, "but I use the number $200 million to $300 million over the life of the production" as a likely estimate of the state's share of royalties and taxes from production under the islands.

What a frapping crock.
That's pennies compared to what tourism means to the area. This is one topic I do know a little something about. My mother's side of the family is from the coast, and my Dad is retired down there. Growing up, I spent a good part of every summer down there. Anyone who's spent any amount of time on the central Gulf Coast, from Texas to Mobile Bay knows that the water there isn't exactly scenic. Nice brown muddy water. Great for shrimp. Cools you off when it's hot, but you don't hear many odes written to the waters there. At least it's better than the brown water off Galveston. There you get both muddy water and tar balls from the offshore rigs. But take just a short boat ride out to the barrier islands, and the world changes. The islands are wild. Except for Civil war era Fort Massachusetts on Ship Island, there's never been any development out there. Go to the Gulf side of the islands, and the water turns a miraculous blue. It's like nowhere else on the central coast. The first time I saw it, I couldn't believe the Gulf of Mexico could be anything but mud brown. Every Memorial and Labor Day weekends, a small flotilla heads to Cat Island. People pitch tents, sleep on the boats, light bonfires and enjoy the beautiful world. Then they pack everything on the boats and head home, leaving it the way they found it. It's wonderful. Now, thanks to Thad Cochran, they won't have to worry about the bonfires, everybody can sing by the light of the oil rigs.
On top of that, IT'S A NATIONAL PARK. Doesn't that mean anything? No, let's start setting off the seismic charges and plop a couple of rigs on the off chance there's some oil or gas there.
One of my family holdings is mineral rights on a little piece of property on the coast. Every couple of decades someone comes along and gets permission to explore, looking for a pool of dinosaur wine. And for a brief minute or two dollar signs dance in our eyes. It never comes to anything. Now its Mississippi's turn to let the dollar signs dance. Anybody want to guess how this one turns out?

Monday, May 30, 2005

Et Tu, High Country News?

High Country News has weighed in with a series of articles and commentary on conservation easements. And somewhat surprisingly (at least to me) has chosen to accentuate the negative. HCN has run sympathetic stories on easements in the West in past issues, particularly Jon Christensen's article on disappearing family ranches in Colorado last year. And it has run commentaries in the past (Jon pops up here too) defending the practice. But the latest cover story Congress looks to reform a system with no steering wheel(free to nonsubscribers) by Ray Ring focuses on the abuses and secrecy. Stuff like "We’re seeing easements on people’s back yards, which really have no conservation value, and very little open-space value," says the Senate Finance Committee staffer, drawing from confidential IRS information. "We get people saying, ‘I didn’t build four McMansions that I could have on this suburban tract, I only built three, and therefore, since I didn’t build as much as I could have, I should get a charitable deduction.’ " Do you think anyone actually said that? And if a real congressional staffer did say that, do you think he was actually quoting someone, or do you think, just perhaps, he might have been embellishing just a liiiitle bit?
There is also much dwelling on the secrecy of the transactions and on their patchwork nature. There are decent points to be made on both of those issues, and some make it into the article. But I guess I'm disappointed that High Country News chose to emphasize the secrecy and the abuses. Anybody who's read any of my amateur meanderings here know that I think the system needs to be reformed. But HCN missed an opportunity here to examine how to do that, and instead put together the same of patchwork of anecdotal abuses, while broadbrushing the entire system as a giveaway to the rich. Too bad.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Cutting and Running

Fascinating article in the Nashua (N.H.) Telegraph on the consequences of "liquidation harvesting"... a type of timber cutting that goes far beyond the standard clear cut. According to the article.
The catalyst for the debate is T.R. Dillon Logging of Madison, Maine, which bought 22,500 acres last year in Success, an unincorporated township east of Berlin. Owner Thomas Dillon, who plans to “commercially clear-cut” about 3,000 acres a year for three years, also has bought 12,000 acres in other nearby towns in the past two years.
“He’s liquidating the land,” says Robert Brown, a member of the Berlin Planning Board, who often walks Dillon’s land in Success. “When this guy Dillon is gone – and I don’t blame him personally – the land’s going to be worth nothing. He’s going to subdivide it. We know that, and it’s tearing people apart up here.” Dillon’s cutting practices in Maine helped inspire a law restricting “liquidation harvesting,” defined as removing nearly all the commercially valuable timber from a parcel. The law, which took effect Jan. 1, bars owners from selling such land for subdivision within five years.
“A way of doing business here is you buy land, you cut it and you sell it, and if that’s a timber liquidator, that’s exactly what I am,” Dillon says cheerfully. But Dillon says he plans to keep the land in Success over the long term and has no plans to subdivide it. “I’m just doing what I need to do as a businessperson and pay my bills and pay my people,” he says. “But say you did want to sell it – it would be sold as a working forest. To go in and completely butcher it would defeat your purpose, so it would be bad business.”

Whether it's just business or bad business is in the eye of his neighbors. Some defend Dillon, and say he's just dealing with economic reality and does have a long term plan that includes selling land for a state park. However..
Henry Swan, chairman of Wagner Forest Management of Lyme, isn’t convinced. Swan, whose company manages timberlands for private and institutional investors, doesn’t think the state should buy land Dillon has logged.
“I don’t like states picking up the carcasses of land that somebody’s been able to rape and pillage,” says Swan, who also is state chairman of the Nature Conservancy. But even Dillon’s detractors say his practices are the result of economic forces bigger than any one landowner: the accelerating turnover of land ownership, new types of owners and vacation home development. Over the past two decades, the giant paper companies whose mills lie along rivers in northern New Hampshire and Maine have sold most of their lands to timber investment companies, which have sold to other timber investors or loggers-turned-landowners such as Dillon. Each new owner must cut more heavily to recover his costs and turn a profit. Once all the commercial timber has been logged from an area, it becomes ripe for subdivision or commercial development, permanently removing it from the working forest and fragmenting wildlife habitat. “Uncertainty of land ownership and the certainty of land turnover on an unprecedented scale have really rocked this state and this region to its roots,” says Jym St. Pierre from the Maine office of the environmental group RESTORE: The North Woods.

Add to the new economic reality, the changes in technology as well.
The accelerating changes in land ownership have been paralleled by leaps in the speed and efficiency of logging technology. To stay ahead of the machinery, most foresters now give their loggers “prescriptions” for cutting in large stands instead of marking individual trees to be harvested.
When Rick Gagne began logging in 1959, teams of horses dragged the timber out of the woods – and sometimes hauled out men injured by chainsaws or falling trees. Now his son, Pat, sits in the cab of a $450,000 processor, pushing buttons to instruct the machine’s arm to grab a tree, cut it, de-limb it and saw it into 8-foot logs – all in less than a minute.

There have been discussions by trusts to buy the land, but Dillon will only sell for the price he paid for the land, plus logging and gravel rights for four years.“What would we be buying?”(Charles) Niebling (of the Society for Protection of New Hampshire Forests) says. “We’d be buying a moonscape.”
But Niebling also says he doesn’t fault Dillon: “I wish that he had a different ethic toward the land, but that’s his business. He bought it, and we don’t have any laws that limit it.”

He bought it, and he can rape it if he wants to. Lovely. At least he's cheerful about it.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Get 'em while they're legal

While the Senate debates whether conservation easements should still be part of the land use arsenal, at least one government agency is trying to make hay while the sun shines, so to speak. According to the prosaically named Hungry Horse News the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service wants to buy easements on about 170,000 acres south of Glacier National Park.
The plan calls for "willing buyer and willing seller," agreements only and would allow for traditional uses of the land, such as ranching and farming. What it aims to do is stop or curtail subdivision of the land.
In short, it wants to stop housing sprawl on the scale that has happened here in Western Montana.
"The Front remains biologically intact and has not been significantly impacted by residential and commercial development," The USFWS says in its environmental assessment of the plan. The project area extends from the South Fork of the Dearborn River north to Birch Creek. It is home to nearly every species that was here when Lewis and Clark first explored the area 200 years ago.

The only species not still around is the free ranging Bison. And we all know what happened to that one. The assessment can be read at

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

A Positive reception

So far the early reviews on the Cascade Agenda seem to be pretty positive... at least from the newspapers. The Seattle Times says that the sheer audacity of the project could be a predictor of its success. And a $7 billion plan to layout a green future for the entire Puget sound region does qualify as audacious. And the Times also suggests that this could be the largest environmental project that is informed by the entire "death of environmentalism" debate.
"Overall, the approach fits the temperament of the times. A certain fatigue has set in with aggressive styles of green activism. As the Cascade Agenda was readied for release, The Economist, the British news journal, called for "informed, innovative, incentive-based greenery" to move ahead. Editors appeared to be looking over Duvernoy's shoulder.
This agenda is grounded in paying people for their land, sustaining jobs and revenue in the resource-based economy, and balancing restriction with opportunity.
The vision is careful not to conflict with the state Growth Management Act. The goal — and the genius — is to plan well beyond current urban-growth boundaries.
This agenda needs to be explained and understood before it will be embraced, but embraced it will be.

I've heard of post-modernism.... could this be the environmental version of Life after "death"? Post-enviro?

Monday, May 23, 2005

Thinking Big, Really Big

The Cascade Land Conservancy has announced a breathtaking $7 Billion (yes, that's a "B") plan to save green spaces in western Washington state covering more than a million acres. The plan was developed after months of discussion with the public, developers and state officials. The highlights include * Conserving 93 percent - or 777,000 acres - of private working forests in the Cascade Mountain range, while permanently protecting another 5 percent, or 48,000 acres, of forest in the four counties. More than 2 million acres of forest already are in public hands.
* Preserving 21,000 acres of foothill forests to protect the headwaters of the region's rivers, as well as protecting another 14,000 acres along Puget Sound shorelines and estuaries.
* Conserving 85 percent of the agricultural land remaining in the four counties, including 106,000 acres in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties, and 200,000 acres in Kittitas.
* Adding 82,500 acres to destination parks and another 30,000 acres to urban parks to keep up with residential growth.

And just where does $7 billion dollars for the plan come from?
According to the AP story on the plans In early steps to ease the resulting development pressure, conservancy officials hope to invest $2 billion in the purchase of land and development rights, raising money by selling bonds, collecting management revenues from working forests now in production and soliciting local, state and federal government grants.
Conservancy President Gene Duvernoy said spending from various sources on conservation and green space in the four counties is now nearly $50 million a year. Boosting that to an average of $70 million annually over the next century requires about $20 million more each year from investments and land revenues, he said.
"So instead of letting governments work on isolated projects, we need to get them to make a concerted effort toward the plan's goals," Duvernoy said

The plan is already getting positive comments from developers. It's an audacious idea. And all know what they're getting into..Creative initiatives will be needed to see the plan work, however, Duvernoy said. But already the moves to "green" building, transfer-development rights and cluster development in rural areas are showing success. The rest will come with focus and hard work, he said. "This is not a plan for the faint of heart," he said. "But when you look at the diversity of organizations supporting this effort, you'll start to see it's more and more feasible.
This will be one to watch.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Porcine Protector

Do pigs deserve due process? That's the crux of a lawsuit filed against The Nature Conservancy and the National Park Service. As noted here previously, TNC and the park service have hired hunters to shoot the wild pigs on Santa Cruz Island off California. The pigs were introduced by settlers in the 1800's, and have done what pigs on their own will do, run wild. They are threatening the tiny Santa Cruz fox, which is only found on the island. The suit was filed by Richard M. Feldman. His suit claims ""Having no natural defenses and having lived peacefully on the island for now 155 years, the Santa Cruz Island pigs are simply running for their lives and deserve nothing but to be left alone,"
The AP story in the Washington Post says The Nature Conservancy didn't return calls seeking comment.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Another Perspective

The debate over the LTA's accreditation plan has calmed down on the Land Trust listserv, and emotions seem to be calming down, too. Here's another perspective on the debate by Tom Bailey of the Little Traverse Conservancy in Michigan. Posted with the author's permission.
From: Tom Bailey
Subject: FW: Comments on Accreditation and the Current Political Environment
Friends and Colleagues,
It has been over a year since I reluctantly ended my subscription to this listserve--my e-mail volume grew so great that I just didn’t think I could take the time to go through it all. But I’m writing you today because of some listserve comments that have been forwarded to me by others about LTA’s work to develop an accreditation program and the current political issues we face. The situation has prompted a number of people to respond in a number of ways, as one would expect in a movement as diverse and yet as passionate as ours. For what it’s worth, I want to share my perspective on the matter in the hopes that it may be helpful for some of you to hear from one who is rapidly becoming an “elder” in this business.
At least a decade ago, I remember proposing that LTA develop a program of peer review that would result in a sort of “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval” that would be a feather in the cap of interested land trusts and a means for advancing the cause of conservation. It was my belief then--and remains so today--that such a voluntary program is a logical next step to build on all the education that we are doing through LTA rallies, regional conferences and so on. After all, since the early days of the Land Trust Exchange, later the Alliance, one of the primary purposes of getting together was to educate one another and advance the state of the art in both the theory and practice of land conservation.
I’m sorry to learn that some people see this sort of program--now being discussed as “accreditation”-- as a threat. I understand that the current political climate, induced in no small part by the Washington Post series on The Nature Conservancy and the current quest on some people’s parts to seek enhanced federal revenues through curtailment of tax incentives, could lead some to believe that the idea of accreditation is a knee-jerk response to political pressure. I can assure you that for myself and others who have been supporting the concept for years, the idea of a voluntary accreditation program is an idea that has been gaining momentum on its own merits. Sure, the political situation has prompted LTA to speed up, but that’s a natural and completely appropriate action considering that the alternative proposed is a federal government-operated accreditation system that could easily become a detriment to conservation and a regulatory nightmare.
I’ve also read that talk of accreditation and much of the response to the current political situation is prompted by the idea that it’s a money-raiser for LTA. Having been directly and personally involved in a good deal of the organizing of our grass roots campaign and other activities of late, I can assure you that this is much more of a liability than an asset for LTA. I’ve been impressed with the response of the LTA staff to all that is going on and can assure you that I have seen not a single trace of money-making or nest-feathering going on here.
I understand that lobbying can be expensive. For years, I resisted the idea of lobbying on the part of LTA and land trusts. I had been through the lobbying mill in my early days as an Earth Day activist and subsequent supporter of wilderness legislation over a period of several years. I wore out plenty of shoes on the marble floors of the Capitol and Congressional office buildings, and knew that business fairly well; I had hoped that land trusts could stay out of it. But the times have changed and I would be remiss if I didn’t proclaim, loudly and clearly, that I have changed in response. The lobbying and grassroots efforts of LTA are important now. In fact, I have also played a central role in creating a state land conservation policy center here in Michigan, in cooperation with my fellow land trusts, to engage in policy work that is absolutely critical in these challenging times. The last thing I wanted was to get involved in yet another organization and more fund raising. But the last thing I could afford to do was to sit on my hands.
So, here we are. I have been to Washington DC twice in the last two weeks. I was up on Capitol Hill, talking to my Congressional delegation, and they were genuinely glad to hear from me. They need and want inforamtion. Then, I headed in to meetings with LTA staff and other land trust colleagues from around the nation. I am extremely impressed with the work that Rand Wentworth is doing, and also am impressed with his staff. Russ Shay deserves a medal. Mary Pope Hutson, John Bernstein and Tamara Van Ryn are working their rear ends off. So are many others, whether their roles are played out visibly or not. Fraser Rothenburg, in particular, performed heroically in organizing things for all of us from out of town, and she sacrificed a lot of personal time to stay with our group in the evenings and lots of overtime. She showed how much she genuinely cares about this work and about those of us in the hinterlands who are doing it. We’re getting more than our money’s worth from LTA and the great staff they have. (No that’s not a commercial or a paid promotional announcement. It comes straight from the heart, head and gut of a man who has been active in this stuff for longer than most land trusts have been in existence. Take it from an original Earth Day veteran: I know good organizing and action when I see it.)
So now what? Senate Finance Committee hearings are set for June 7, and at that time there’ll be more in the Washington Post. There will no doubt be other stories and issues emerging. Fortunately, the LTA staff is on the job and many people from land trusts around the nation are giving their time and talent to support our cause in an hour of great need. Remember, friends, as I’ve said many times before, the Land Trust Alliance is not just “those people” in DC and in the LTA offices. They are the staff of LTA, but when it comes down to it WE are the Land Trust Alliance. We, the land trusts and land conservationists of the nation, have a staff, an organization and many programs. But in the final analysis, LTA is us.
I am glad to be able to roll up my sleeves and work with some of the wonderful people from land trusts around the nation and from the LTA staff. It’s the most encouraging grass roots political work I have done since the 1970s.
There’s a wonderful spirit in this work, and a great spirit in our movement. We’ll be most successful if we work together against our problems, not against one another. We need to address the issue of accreditation; since the Washington Post stories, it will not go away. We need to look at a number of issues, and we need to recognize that as our movement has matured, we need to make adjustments. We must work harder to tell Congress and our state legislatures what we do, how we do it, and why it’s important. If we don’t our cause and our work will suffer. I am happy to be a part of LTA and I hope that all of us around the nation who love the land and love this work can work together to meet the challenges of the day head on, with strength, unity and conviction.
Thanks for this opportunity to register my views!!
Tom Bailey,
Little Traverse Conservancy,

Saturday, May 14, 2005

The next thing to worry about

Sorry for the lack of blogging recently. The May "Sweeps" period is upon us. I know for most TV viewers it's a fun month with new episodes of their favorite shows. For those of us who work in TV, it's like a month long exam. So enough of the whining, on with the news.
Here's a new one for land trusts to worry about. Meth labs. According to the Daily Herald of Everett, WA the Cascade Land Conservancy is facing a $7,000 clean-up bill, after a Meth lab was discovered on conservancy property. The kicker? The Conservancy actually discovered the lab, called the police and even though a suspect (who is not connected with the conservancy) has been arrested, it's the conservancy that's being hit with the bill. Meth has become a huge problem across the country, and this is not going to be the last time that a lab pops up on protected land.
And there's a job opening in Florida that pays pretty well. The president of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida Kathy Prosser is stepping down to join her new husband in Colorado. Prosser has been the President and CEO of the Naples based group for 5 years. According to the article, she's been making $160,000 a year. Get your resumes dusted off.....

Saturday, May 07, 2005

The Million Dollar Bird

Not only is the Ivory Billed Woodpecker incredibly rare, it's also expensive. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports the search for the Lord God Bird cost at least a million dollars.
All told, searchers put in 20,000 hours along the Cache and White rivers in eastern Arkansas to come up with 16 brief sightings that add up to maybe one minute of face time with the Arkansas Delta’s comeback kid. .........
Unlike the unsuccessful 2002 search for ivory-bills in Louisiana that was followed closely by the public, the Arkansas hunt dodged publicity. Search leaders from The Nature Conservancy and the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology in New York took great pains to keep their mission under wraps by requiring all participants to sign confidentiality agreements. The Nature Conservancy even bought a house in Cotton Plant and rented two more in St. Charles for out-oftown researchers to stay in so a spike in hotel stays wouldn’t spawn rumors. "It was kept quiet because everyone realized we had to be sure this time," Simon explained.

The article has a detailed description of the search.... and also reveals that the "bird rush" hasn't started yet.
The Waffle House in town hasn’t reported any extra business, and neither has the Super 8 Motel next to Interstate 40. It'll really be a big deal when the Waffle House notices.

Dogs gone Wild

Here's a new twist on what happens when people and the environment mix.... they bring their dogs. And having just cut a lawn that needed a fair amount of pooper scooping from just one dog... I can imagine what happens when everyone brings their four legged friend along. This is from the Las Vegas Sun
Dogs may be man's best friend, but they pose a risk to Lake Tahoe.
Conservationists are urging dog owners to pick up after their pets, saying dog waste contains chemicals that can feed algae growth at the lake and harm its famed clarity.
The California Tahoe Conservancy estimates that dogs produce 81 metric tons of nitrogen and 17.5 tons of phosphorous each year at the nation's largest alpine lake.
"A lot of folks have that attitude of being in the mountains and that you can do what you want. It takes some help for them to understand there are other people and their usage affects those other people," conservancy resource manager Rick Robinson told the Tahoe Daily Tribune.
The conservancy distributes fliers at trailheads urging hikers to pick up after their pets.
South Lake Tahoe codes target dog owners who do not pick up after their animals in public places or while trespassing on private property.
The bistate Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, charged with protecting the lake's environment, has no ordinance concerning the issue.
But the agency could address it in the future, and any decision rests with local governments, TRPA spokeswoman Julie Regan said.
Last year, a volunteer cleanup day netted 65 pounds of dog waste at one lakeshore location alone.
Concern about the issue coincided with a first-of-its-kind conference Thursday on Lake Tahoe's role as a drinking water source for thousands of people in the Reno-Tahoe area.
While the lake's continuing loss of clarity has received national attention, officials say, it's equally important to protect Lake Tahoe as a drinking water source.
Dan St. John, public works director at Incline Village, said there's no question dog waste affects Lake Tahoe's water quality.
"Part of our water source protection is to educate dog owners," he said. "But that's certainly an area we need to work on."


Monday, May 02, 2005

Death to the Estate Tax!

Here's an novel argument out of right field. This commentary in the Christian Science Monitor argues that environmentalists should be against the estate, excuse me, death tax. (Isn't semantics wonderful? or is that Aren't Semantics wonderful?) Here's the nut of the argument One of the most sinister effects of this tax is the needless loss of millions of acres of farmland, forest, and wildlife habitat. When a landowner dies, his or her heirs are often shocked to find out that they must pay huge sums to the government within nine months of the death, based on the value of the land. To pay the money, they are typically forced to sell the land - often to developers.A particular problem is the breakup of contiguous tracts of land, which are necessary for larger animals to forage and roam. A 2000 study by the US Forest Service's Southern Research Station found that about 1.3 million acres per year of forested land had to be sold to pay the estate tax, and of the land sold, 29 percent was developed or converted to other uses. And 2.6 million acres of trees are chopped down each year to pay the estate tax. (The study makes clear that people sold the assets to pay the estate tax, rather than simply to pocket some cash.)
The counter-argument? Also supplied by the same commentary.The Friends of the Earth spokesperson also noted that the estate tax actually encourages conservation thanks to conservation easements - where landowners get tax relief in exchange for preserving their land. It is certainly plausible that an easement could induce some heirs to preserve their land, who otherwise would have sold it if there were no estate tax. But conservation easements are complex undertakings; most landowners and heirs are not willing to go through the time and expense of setting them up. In 1998, the Office of Management and Budget estimated that deductions for conservation easements over the ensuing five years (1999-2003) would reduce estate tax revenue by less than two-tenths of one percentage point (0.18 percent). Two New York Democratic members of Congress certainly seem to believe the estate tax is taking a toll on the environment. Concerned about dwindling open space on Long Island, Sen. Charles Schumer and Rep. Tim Bishop put forward a bill last year that would defer the estate tax for those who agree to not sell their land to developers.
Not content to just make the argument, the commentary then devolves into name-calling.
No doubt there are some within the environmental movement who genuinely believe that the estate tax actually helps, or has a neutral effect on, the environment. But I suspect that a big reason for environmental groups' support for, or silence on, the issue has to do with other factors. Most employees of and donors to major environmental groups hail from the left side of the political spectrum, where anything that reeks of tax cuts for the rich is anathema. Even for those organizations sympathetic to repealing the estate tax, publicly supporting that could alienate much of their donor base
So there you have it. Kill the death tax, support the environment. Support the estate tax, and become a long haired hippie apologist. What could be more clear?

Sunday, May 01, 2005

MMMMM, Bacon.

Not often you can start a post by quoting Homer Simpson, so might as well take advantage of it. Actually the headlines being used are, Conservationists Kill Wild Pigs and California sends in guns to slaughter 3,000 pigs - and restore and Island's pig eradication program irks some activists. It's all over a plan by the Nature Conservancy and the National Park service to save one native species on Santa Cruz Island, California by killing a non-native one. Here's how the AP story starts...
Norm Macdonald rises each morning with the sun, grabs his .223-caliber rifle and slips into the passenger seat of a tiny, doorless helicopter for another day of shooting pigs.
   As the chopper skims over rugged terrain, Macdonald scans dozens of simple fence traps he's set up for the thousands of wild swine that have overrun this Southern California island.
   When there are pigs in the traps - and there always are - Macdonald leans out and pumps two bullets into each animal: One for the heart and one for the head.
   Each pig's death brings conservationists one step closer to their goal of saving the tiny Santa Cruz fox, an endangered species found only on this 96-square-mile island off Santa Barbara.
   Experts believe it's the best way to mend the island's delicate ecological web, which was torn when domesticated pigs escaped from now-abandoned ranches as early as the 1850s.
   The killings have angered animal rights groups and forced the National Park Service and The Nature Conservancy, which co-own the island, to answer why groups dedicated to protecting animals are instead paying $5 million to kill them.

It's a call that land trusts make everywhere. Restore the land to its original state. Pull up the non-native species, replace the natural balance. Tom Anderson over at Sphere has been following similar efforts in Connecticut to control deer and canadian geese. Sometimes those responsible for culling the herd use scientific reasons, sometimes aesthetic. I understand the rational, and I'm not necessarily against it. But sometimes I wonder if the restoration is artificial... trying to restore land to a point just before the white folks showed up.... like that's the only marker that counts. Isn't the world a constant competition between the ones that are here, and the ones that are moving in? I guess that is the essence of the word "conservation". And I guess that's what conservationists are supposed to do. And I know that the big difference is that most of the invaders got here by either hitching a ride with humans, or their populations have exploded because we wiped out their natural predators. But it still seems very Don Quixote. Even if Don now uses a rifle instead of a lance.

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