Nature Noted

Notes on a changing Nature

Location: Bellville, Texas, United States

I never would have predicted this one

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,


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