Nature Noted

Notes on a changing Nature

Location: Bellville, Texas, United States

I never would have predicted this one

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

The Good News

My family members who stayed behind in Waveland, MS have been heard from. They survived. Thank you, God. The destruction is ferocious. Entire beautiful neighborhoods have been swept away. We have no idea what my Dad's house looks like now, but none of that matters now. I've been hearing horrendous stories coming from the coast, of bodies in the roads, of houses being marked with black paint to indicate bodies inside. Many, many people have lost loved ones. New Orleans will never be the same. The Mississippi Gulf Coast will take years and years to recover. Please keep everyone there in your thoughts and prayers.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Katrina Approaches

Say a prayer for everyone along the central Gulf Coast this morning. My dad has already boarded up, and pulled out. He got into Memphis last night. My aunt and uncle and cousins all plan to ride it out. Dad talked with them this morning and while they are all getting extremely nervous, they don't want to leave. I was nine when Camille hit the Mississippi coast. We were in Houston. My grandmother, aunt & uncle and cousins were in Bay St. Louis. The eye hit Pass Christian and Long Beach, just across the bay. It took us days to find out if everyone was still alive. Three weeks before they would let us in. I can still remember being stunned by miles of trees, all flattened in the same direction. My grandmother had a big house surrounded by pecan trees. Almost everyone of them fell. Miraculously, they all missed the house. You could walk the length and breadth of her large backyard without having to touch the ground. Tree to tree to tree. The only thing that saved them was that the eye hit to their east. For years after Camille, we would drive by one apartment complex that took a direct hit. The only things left were the concrete steps and the foundation. Everything else was gone. The day of the storm, several people held a hurricane party in one of the apartments. Only one person survived, and she was found miles inland. This is going to be a bad one.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Smoky Mountain Land

The Nature Conservancy is going to play midwife to a plan to eventually transfer nearly 10,000 acres of land to the National Park Service near the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. The first step takes place August 30th when the land's owner, Alcoa Power Generating, will grant to The Nature Conservancy, at no cost, permanent conservation easements covering approximately 5,900 acres and term conservation easements on an additional 3,975 acres of land. The lands over which the conservation easements will be granted are located in Blount and Monroe counties, Tennessee. More specifically, the land effected sits between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Cherokee National Forest. The Nature Conservancy will have the option to buy this land from APGI, ultimately transferring it to the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, or the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, assuring its long-term protection." So says the press release.
And another press release announces that a new Conservation Easement Handbook is ready for release.
he Land Trust Alliance (LTA) and the Trust for Public Land (TPL) have revised and expanded The Conservation Easement Handbook, the definitive resource for land conservation professionals developing a conservation easement program to meet local acquisition needs. With the renewed IRS scrutiny of donations of conservation easements, land donors, their attorneys, and easement-holding organizations will need the best possible guidance to ensure that they are following the letter and the spirit of the law — and this is it. .....
A detailed guide for establishing and maintaining a conservation easement program, the handbook provides technical guidelines for drafting conservation easements—complete with case studies, sample documents and references to landmark court decisions. The two publishers, LTA and TPL, are national nonprofit conservation organizations leading land conservation efforts across the country through training, public finance and transactional support.
"The great conservation opportunities of this century will be on privately owned land, and conservation easements are the most effective way to protect those lands," said Rand Wentworth, LTA president. "Now at this time when easements are under threat, The Conservation Easement Handbook presents critical information to help guide those who design them to last forever."
The handbook reads like a how-to manual and includes topics such as:
Creating an Easement Program - From the basics, such as goal setting and developing criteria for resource protection, to the challenges of creating and executing a conservation priorities plan.
Developing a Stewardship Program - If conservation easements are to last in perpetuity, a well-managed stewardship program is vital.
The Conservation Easement Drafting Guide - An update to the Model Conservation and Preservation Easement published in 1988 and 1996, this section has five chapters dedicated to checklists, sample easement provisions and commentary.

Anyone interested in the new handbook can find ordering information at either LTA publications or TPL publications.

Crumb Sighting

Crumb Trail's back. I thought Gary had gone the way of the Ivory Billed Woodpecker!

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Boon or Boondoggle?

Federal auditors are taking aim at an Agriculture department program that pays farmers for easements to protect wetlands. The Sacramento Bee reports that while farmers love the payments and environmentalists love the results, the auditors are questioning whether the taxpayers are being overcharged.
"Since its modest beginnings in the 1990 farm bill, the federal program has helped protect 1.4 million acres nationwide, including more than 70,000 acres in California. The federal funds, for instance, have helped restore wetlands on the 600-acre Lonetree Ranch in Merced County, the 640-acre Pryse Farms site in Tulare County and the 232-acre L&L Farms site in San Joaquin County. Sacramento Valley rice farmers and environmental advocacy groups, in particular, have been big fans.
"It's been a success in that we've been able to help landowners convert marginal land into wetlands," Dennis Orthmeyer, wetlands program director for the Sacramento-based California Waterfowl Association, said Friday."

But, hold on there say the auditors...
This month, the Agriculture Department's Office of Inspector General bluntly critiqued the program in a 71-page report that's laden with auditor-speak. "(Agriculture Department) controls are not currently adequate to ensure that its easement valuation process operates effectively, efficiently and in compliance with applicable laws and regulations," auditors warned.
Specifically, the auditors singled out the Agriculture Department's California offices for "significant valuation deficiencies" that cost taxpayers money.
Over the past five years, auditors say, Wetlands Reserve Program problems nationwide cost taxpayers an estimated $159 million in unwarranted payments. Auditors say Agriculture Department officials weren't well-qualified to assess real estate. Rules have been misinterpreted, benefiting farmers. Farmers have collected both crop subsidies and wetlands reserve funding for the same land.

Agriculture department officials defend the program, but conceed the controls need to be tighter. As is usually the case with easements, the problem is how to value them.
How land gets valued is one big problem, with Knight citing a past "difference of opinion" between auditors and his agency. Until now, farmers have received the fair agricultural value of the land being protected. Auditors, however, say this is too much because it ignores the "residual value," which covers other uses such as hunting still possible on the land.
In California, for instance, farmers were paid an average of $2,000 an acre. Auditors contend the protected land retained an average residual value of up to $1,500 an acre. In other cases, farmers have double-dipped, by collecting wetlands funds for land that's also used in fixing crop subsidy payments.
In seven California farms reviewed by the auditors, growers received a total of $838,448 in crop subsidies for land that also drew wetlands reserve funding. Since the seven farms amounted to a big percentage of the 17 California farms included in the overall review, auditors further warned that the statewide problem might be much costlier."

Stand by for more bad news about easements.

Friday, August 19, 2005

The Great Easement Debate

One of the hottest debates in the land trust world revolves around a recent article in the L.A. Times about a conservation easement granted on Las Tablas Ranch in Paso Robles, California. Here's how the Times sets the story...
..neighbors and local conservationists were much relieved when the owners, the family of rancher Mike Bonnheim, signed an agreement a few years ago to forever protect most of their land from development.
But soon they were startled and dismayed to hear the piercing whine of chain saws and see pallets of freshly cut and split oak trucked from the ranch, bound for firewood markets.
"It was hundreds of truckloads, easily," said Ralph Ward, a neighbor who works as a carpenter. "I do not consider cutting live oaks conservation…. I am very sad…. I am not an extreme tree hugger."
The cutting goes on, specifically allowed under a conservation easement that the owners signed with a local land trust in return for lucrative development credits granted by San Luis Obispo County.
Conservation easements are land-use agreements that usually provide financial incentives for keeping land primarily as open space. Some easements have become controversial, however, because they resemble tax shelters or don't meet public expectations for conservation.
The Bonnheim ranch easement "was negotiated under the guise of halting development in rural areas," said former county planning commissioner and environmental activist Pat Veesart. "How is timber [cutting] consistent with the purpose of a conservation easement?"
Veesart's criticism is part of the nationwide debate over how best to structure and police conservation easements to ensure that natural resources are protected and that the public dollars that often help underwrite the easements are well spent."

The Rest of The Story
So is this a case of easement abuse? The issue is being debated by people interested in land trusts and in the greater environmental movement. The image of hundred year old oaks being cut into firewood has many people upset, others worrying that it will cast all easements into a negative light. While the leaders of the land trust involved are heard from in the story, the executive director doesn't think his side was adequately told. Brian Stark of Land Conservancy of San Luis Obispo County wrote a spirited defense of the easement and the way the trust has handled it. I asked permission to run it here, which Brian allowed. But he also passed along his letter to the editor of the L.A. Times, which the Times hasn't published.... but I gladly will. Here's the letter.
Dear Editor,
We are disappointed with Tim Reiterman’s recent article “Ranch’s Easement Spawns Controversy” because it does little to describe the important conservation result achieved on the Las Tablas Ranch and instead focuses on activities occurring on a mere 1% of the ranch. Moreover, it tarnishes our organization through unwarranted references to conservation issues that do not apply to this case or to our Conservancy in general.
The article should have addressed the importance of preventing residential development on rural lands. This easement forever protects 5,500 acres of the Las Tablas Ranch from the hundreds of homes and miles of roads that could eventually have been built there. Development would have brought hundreds of people (with their cars and pets and related pollution), the extension of utilities that would encourage development of neighboring ranches, and miles of fences that would block the movement of wildlife. Such development of homes and infrastructure would surely have led to the loss of many more trees than those removed by the Bonnheims’ management practices and damaged the entire ecology of the region: Las Tablas Ranch might have ended up like Porter Ranch or Thousand Oaks.
The article mentions various recent criticisms of conservation easements, but please note: 1) No public money was spent on this easement. While it is the result of a San Luis Obispo County program, all funding is from private sources. The casual allusions to state bond-funded projects and public expectations are misleading; 2) The Land Conservancy of SLO County strictly monitors the Bonnheims’ compliance with the easement’s conditions and will use all available legal means to enforce those terms. The reference to “weaknesses in enforcement” does not apply here; 3) Our Conservancy conducts all our activities in accordance with the Land Trust Alliance’s Standards and Practices, which ensure ethical and effective conservation transactions.
Conservation Easements are a very valuable conservation tool and the public needs to know that these are voluntary transactions with landowners. Each easement is custom written to meet conservation goals while retaining reasonable land uses on the property. The Bonnheims did not have to conserve anything. They instead chose to restrict development even though development would have been more lucrative.
The Land Conservancy of San Luis Obispo County feels strongly that protecting oak woodlands is important and we respect the public views that support this goal. The Bonnheims have been good stewards of their entire ranch, a point your article neglects. We believe that the minimal timber management underway will not fundamentally damage this oak woodland and that the Las Tablas Ranch Conservation Easement provides protection that far exceeds the limited impacts seen in the small managed area.

Brian Stark
Executive Director
Land Conservancy of San Luis Obispo County

To me, the most telling thing is that no public money was spent on the easement. This wasn't an easement done for tax purposes.... private money raised by the trust was used to buy the easement. And the trust knew what it was getting. A conscious decision was made that the greater good was to keep the land free from development, while allowing it to remain a working ranch. You can make the argument that it's better for the trees to stay, and no clearing be allowed. But it seems like if those were the conditions, the easement would have never been sold, and all the land would have eventually turned into a housing development.
Again, it goes back to educating the public and yes, the media (of which I'm a member) of the nuances of conservation easements. It's the old story of living in the real world and making the best choices you can. In this case, The Land Conservancy leaders made a choice that it was better to keep the ranch as it is now, than to let it turn into something more developed.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Rain Redux

To my little musings yesterday on the lack of rain in this part of the world, let me point your attention to a blog that covers an entirely different universe.... business. One of the blogs I enjoy reading is Jeff Matthews Is Not Making This Up. Matthews is a business analyst who presents (to me, at least) real world business savvy insights. So what does this have to do with a lack of rain?
In his latest entry Matthews recounts a recent conference call by John Deere, as the leaders of the global farm equipment company tried to explain a recent slowdown in sales. Here's how Matthews put it....
There have been plenty of articles in recent days about the Midwest drought and barges grounded on mud in the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, so the company’s U.S. commentary was not much of a surprise:
Also during the quarter drought really took hold in the U.S. Midwest. While this has not hurt ag retail sales to date but as the dryness persisted into the critical July pollination period for corn it became clear to us that customers in drought stricken areas could suffer meaningful yield losses and they might put off equipment purchases as a result.
But the drought is not just concentrated in the central United States.
In Europe, the drought in southern Europe that was mentioned on the conference call in May intensified and spread. Spain and Portugal are the driest in 60 years and drought continues, conditions have spread to parts of France and Italy.
Furthermore, it goes beyond North America and the Old World:
Brazil, already hurt by drought and narrowing farm incomes, witnessed the continued weakening of the U.S. dollar versus the real during the quarter. The dollar is down 21% versus the real over last year. That is bad news for farmers who pay their expenses in real but sell their crops in U.S. dollars which have been losing value. Just how weak are things in Brazil? Well Deere's combine sales are off about 70% in the last six months and tractors over 50%

Read the rest of the entry, but the point is inescapable. Wall Street is starting to notice this Global Warming Thing.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Where's the Water?

It's nothing to rival the 1930's.... but have you noticed that it's not raining much lately? It's not news in the West... see this article or many others like it in New West. In Wisconsin, environmental groups like The Nature Conservancy are watching lake levels drop to worrisome levels. Here in Memphis, the Mississippi river is dropping to levels that haven't been seen in years. The Arkansas side of the river is starting to look like one very big beach. Our own Redneck Riviera, indeed. It's being called the worst drought in the Midwest in nearly 20 years.
Weather Channel meteorologist Mike Seidel explained to The Early Show co-anchor Hannah Storm Tuesday that it's been warmer than usual in most parts of the Northeast and Midatlantic, but that comes on the heels of two cooler-than-average summers. So, "When it gets up to around 100, it just feels worse."
That said, "We are seeing more extremes, and they're even more extreme than they were before. Global warming modelers plug in warmer temperatures down the road. And what we're seeing is, down the road, if we do keep getting warmer like we're seeing, we'll see more extreme weather.
"Here's a little statistic, too: Back in the 1800s, once every seven Julys, you had a 100-degree afternoon. Now, it's one day every four Julys you see 100 in New York."

Feeling hot, hot, hot.

Friday, August 12, 2005

The Land Use Priority

World Land Use Seen As Top Environmental Issue. That's the headline on a study from the University of Wisconsin and the July 22, 2005 journal Science.
The massive conversion of the world's natural landscapes to agriculture and other human uses may soon begin to undermine the capacity of the planet's ecosystems to sustain a burgeoning human population.......
a group of leading scientists portrays the escalating transformation of the world's forests, wetlands, savannahs, waterways and other native landscapes as the biggest potential threat to human health and global sustainability.
"Short of a collision with an asteroid, land use by humans is the most significant impact on the world's biosphere," according to Jonathan A. Foley, a UW-Madison climatologist and the lead author of the Science paper. "It may be the single most pressing environmental issue of our day."
The new Science paper was written by a group of leading environmental scientists representing a wide range of scientific disciplines, including biology, climatology, medicine, limnology, geography and earth science. Foley directs the UW-Madison Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment in the Gaylord Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies.
Land use, according to the report, is no longer just a local issue. It is a force of global importance as the world's six billion people compete for food, water, fiber and shelter. The report, says Foley, is a comprehensive review of scientific research on the world's major land-use practices - agriculture, urban and rural development, deforestation and other natural resource extraction - and their impacts on the world's ecosystems.
According to Foley, nearly one-third of the world's land surface is now in use for agriculture and millions of acres of natural ecosystems are converted each year. Many of the agricultural practices, built on Western-style methods, are unsustainable, requiring large applications of chemical fertilizers and further sculpting of the landscape to divert water to marginal lands.
"While land use practices vary greatly across the world, their ultimate outcome is generally the same: the acquisition of natural resources for immediate human needs, often at the expense of degrading environmental conditions," the authors write.
One example, Foley says, is changing patterns of human and animal disease as climate changes and allows pathogens to flourish in regions where they previously did not exist. Diseases such as West Nile, malaria, cholera, Rift Valley fever and hanta virus are examples of infectious diseases that have emerged in new places and whose frequency has increased as land use and ecological patterns shift.
Foley emphasizes that scientists must look beyond the world's wilderness and consider the whole landscape, including cities, suburbs and agricultural areas in their assessments of global environmental health. "We need to look at land use in a global context. The whole system needs to be considered."

I certainly agree with the conclusions, but I can already see one example that may bring the entire argument into question.
Among the examples given as "sustainable land use practices that provide both economic and environmental advantages:
New York City's purchase of development rights in the Catskills to enhance the city's water supply. The practice resulted in an estimated $5 billion to $7 billion savings for water purification services."

I know that this is a matter of some debate....A PERC report called it nothing more than an urban myth. Read the release and the PERC report, and decide for yourself on this one. But on the overall thrust of the report.... good stewardship always seems like a good idea to me.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Make Crooked the Straight

You see it in spots all over the country. Rivers and streams that had been straightened in the name of flood control, or agriculture or navigation. It's the old, "it seemed like a good idea at the time". The latest example is in Utah, where The Nature Conservancy is working to put the bends back into Kays Creek, which flows into the Great Salt Lake.
"After [the creek] was put into a straight channel, it destroyed the bird habitat and created flooding for the farmers upstream and, basically, made a nightmare for the Davis County Mosquito Abatement District," said Chris Brown, project manager for the Nature Conservancy in Utah.
With the population in surrounding communities swelling by 65 percent during the past 20 years, preservationists deem the restoration project critical to the survival of dozens of bird species that use the Great Salt Lake as rest stop in their natural migration patterns.
The nonprofit organization, which operates a 4,000-acre preserve in west Kaysville, plans to spend $345,000 to restore the final mile of Kays Creek where it feeds into the lake. The group is seeking funding from the state's LeRay McAllister Critical Land Conservation Fund along with donations from organizations such as Ducks Unlimited to pay for the project.
"This is the first time at our Great Salt Lake Shorelands Preserve where the Nature Conservancy has gone beyond protecting habitat to actually trying to return it to its historic and natural state," Amanda Smith, the group's government-relations specialist, told the Davis County Commission, which passed a resolution Tuesday supporting the project.

Sometimes the best way from one place to another isn't necessarily a straight line.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Duck Soup

Memphis based Ducks Unlimited has made its first property buy in Colorado.... 160 acres adjacent to the largest state owned wetland property there, Russell Lakes. The purchase is an infill.... a pocket of land surrounded by the existing preserve in the San Luis Valley, which had been in private hands. According to the wildlife columnist for the Rocky Mountain News the purchase is an exception to DU's more common way to preserve property there.... buying easements instead of property. And it may stay the exception......
In its first outright purchase of land in Colorado, the conservation organization .... has just signed the deed to 160 acres of wetland property adjacent to the state wildlife area.
Lying within the Russell Lakes complex, the land was part of a ranch owned by the Davey family for more than a century. (DU program manager Bob )Sanders said owners Alan and Eric Davey went to DU as their first-choice buyer, knowing the group would preserve the wetland.
"For them to have come to us was a real honor," he said.
He concedes 160 acres isn't much compared with some of DU's huge purchases, including those in South Dakota's pothole country. But this is a sweet addition, supporting some of the highest duck densities in the Russell Lakes complex.....
While it might seem obvious DU eventually would pass the land on to the Division of Wildlife to join the rest of the state area and provide additional public access, that might not happen.
Sanders said it's too early to tell what will become of the Davey parcel, but the current political climate might make it impossible for the DOW to acquire the land.
The state legislature this year passed a bill creating a $5 habitat stamp to raise money for wildlife habitat but restricted outright purchases. The new law exhorts the DOW to lease land for hunting and fishing. The message was that legislators probably will refuse future requests for state fee-title purchases.
DU's usual method of protecting habitat is with conservation easements, which pay owners to retire their development options but offer no guarantee of public access. Sanders said the group has protected 12,000 acres in the San Luis Valley by removing the temptation to sell and develop ranches and farms.

The legislature's emphasis on easements over purchases has been criticized.... but still seems the best way to make limited funds go further.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Off Topic - Report from Jerusalem

This has nothing to do with land trusts.... but I'll hope you'll forgive the tangent. The following is by Robert Bryce, and was published in Arab News. Bob is an old friend from high school, and was in Israel on assignment for World Energy Review Monthly. This was originally intended as a note for friends and family, but gives a perspective on the Middle East I haven't seen.
Hope you find it worthwhile.
Third Intifada May Not Be Long in Coming
Robert Bryce, Arab News

After a week in this country, and four trips to the West Bank (three of them to Ramallah, which requires passage through the chaotic, dusty, noisy checkpoint at Calandia) I find that the sense of anger among the Arab population is palpable. More interesting perhaps, is that both Israelis and Palestinians alike believe that the third intifada is coming and that it won’t be long in coming. And as one Palestinian who lives in East Jerusalem told me, “three is a magic number.” Thus, the third war will be bloodier, longer, and nastier than the first two intifadas.
This picture is from the top of the Mount of Olives, in the town of Bethany. For Christians, Bethany is one of the most important locations in the Holy Land. Bethany is where the Palm Sunday procession began. Bethany was the home of Mary and Martha, in whose home Jesus stayed. Today, a nine-meter high wall has divided Bethany. For residents of Bethany, getting to the other side of their town now requires a 30-minute drive around the “separation wall.” The impoverished little town that has a couple of Christian enclaves has been sliced in two.
I didn’t come here to write about the plight of Christians in the Holy Land. That said, it’s more than obvious that the holiest places in Christendom are besieged. Roadblocks, checkpoints and the ongoing construction of Israel’s “separation” wall are garroting Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus Christ.
I just got a UN report that says that ten percent of Bethlehem’s Christians have fled the city in the past four years. The report, issued in December 2004, begins by saying “The glory of vanishing.”
The Mount of Olives has been carved in two by the wall.
In the Old City, in Jerusalem, the Christian Quarter is a stark contrast to the Arab and Jewish Quarters. In the other two quarters, the two faiths appear to be locked in a population race. Nearly every Orthodox Jewish couple is pushing a stroller or carrying a baby. In the always-mobbed Arab Quarter, teenagers and kids are everywhere. The statisticians say that half of the Palestinian population is under the age of 17.
In both the Jewish Quarter and the Arab Quarter, you have to watch where you walk, and keep your arms at your sides, because people are everywhere, squeezing through the narrow passages of the Old City. In the Christian Quarter — except perhaps, for the areas directly adjacent to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre — you can walk with your arms akimbo, hell, you can walk with your arms stretched full out, and you probably won’t hit a single person. It’s a ghost town.
So, after a week in Israel, the question that jumps out at me is obvious: Why don’t American Christians give a damn?
The fundamentalist Christian movement in America has never been stronger. President George W. Bush frequently professes his faith and has even declared that God guided his war in Iraq. Tom DeLay, the House Majority leader, is born again. The Religious Right dominates the discussion on abortion, prayer in schools, and many other matters.
And yet, when it comes to the Holy Land, there is silence. Is this Christian eschatology run amok? Do America’s conservative Christians simply not understand what’s happening in Israel? Or, more cynically, do they simply not care? When it comes to their faith, do these Christians not care about the turf that provides the physical underpinnings for their faith? My friend, Saro Nakashian, is an Armenian Christian who lives in the Armenian Quarter in the Old City, in a small house that is 300 years old. He’s exactly my age, 44. He studied in the states for six years. He works in Ramallah as a consultant to the Palestinian Authority. He speaks four languages: “Armenian at home. Arabic at the market. Hebrew to pay my phone bill. And English for business.” Saro has lived in Jerusalem since 1968. At that time there were 18,000 Armenian Christians in the Quarter. Today, there are 2,000. When I asked him why the Americans aren’t interested in what’s happening the Holy Land, he replied, “The American churches only care about expanding the size of their congregations. They don’t care about what’s happening over here.”
Finally, after a week in this town, walking all over, taking taxis all over the region, I expected to see just a bit of a Catholic presence. Yet, in all my time here, I have seen exactly one Roman collar. And that collar was on a Japanese Catholic priest and he was in the plaza in front of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. And I might be mistaken about his collar. The Vatican may be expanding its influence in Africa and Latin America, but it’s got nothing happening in Jerusalem.
I want to like Israel. I want to see peace here between the Jews and the Arabs. Alas, after seeing the wall, after seeing what’s happening in the Old City, after seeing the daily humiliation of the Palestinians at the hands of the Israeli Defense Forces, I’m not holding my breath.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Nature's Keepers

Jon at The Uneasy Chair is out of the river and pointing out a review of "Nature's Keepers" in the latest Conservation in Practice. "Nature's Keepers" by Bill Birchard is a history of how The Nature Conservancy become the biggest environmental organization on the planet. Management guru Tom Peters has a long interview with Birchard. Chapter excerpts are available on Birchard's website. Thanks for the head's up, Jon.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Managing the Model Forest

Dr. Peter Bates and the people of Waynesville, N.C. are about to begin upon an experiment that could have a major impact on determining whether "sustainable forestry" is really sustainable. Check out this excellent article in the Smoky Mountain News about the plan by Dr. Bates and a team of scientists to study the watershed around Waynesville. The article by Becky Johnson is one of the best I've seen explaining how sustainable forestry can work, how it can actually make the forest healthier, and why some people still don't trust it.
Dr. Bates is a professor at Western Carolina University, and has gathered a team of experts from around the country to use Waynesville in a way that could be a national model.
In the past, conservation easements have gone into minute detail about what couldn’t be done — no replanting, no trimming, no cutting, no thinning, no burning, no spraying.
“They are well meaning but very rigid,” Bates said. “There are some cases where there was an insect or disease problem and there was treatment for it, but the easement prevented it.”
The new strategy in forest conservation easements is to focus on overall strategies and philosophies, allowing flexibility under the umbrella of conservation, Bates said.
“The goal is to create and maintain a healthy forest in that watershed, but it doesn’t say how to do that,” Bates said. “It’s causing the town to cross that hurdle and think about the forest in a holistic way, as opposed to the alternative, which is to not even think about it, and say ‘we’re just going to let what happens and let nature run its course.’”.........

...... A healthy forest also means having a mix of gigantic 200-year-old oaks and young maple saplings, bogs for turtles and nesting trees for owls, woodland patches of ginseng and ramps, and a few clearings conducive to blueberry bushes.
“Everyone agrees on these big picture kind of things and that they are good goals. But how do you get there? When you get into the nitty gritty of what is a healthy forest, there are all sorts of value judgments,” Bates said.
The first job is collecting baseline data. That is the primary goal of the 18-month study Bates and his team are proposing. Plant and animal species, habitat types, soil types, and archaeology sites will be surveyed — and, of course, water quality.
“Water quality is ultimate barometer of how you are doing managing your forest,” Bates said.

Bates said Waynesville’s watershed could become a national model and influence both private and public forest stewardship. “There is no example of this in the Southern Appalachians,” Bates said. “This will be an opportunity to demonstrate what sustainable forest management truly is, because that’s a buzz word that everyone is using to describe what they are doing. “All of us in that larger movement realize the only way to demonstrate what it really is, is to get it on the ground so people can see it,” Bates said.....
But not everyone is convinced that this is a good idea.
Charles Miller, a Waynesville resident and staunch opponent of logging in the watershed, asked why Waynesville should sacrifice its watershed to be a national model for forestry. “They are just using it for an experimental study up there,” Miller said. “How can they prove they can do it if it’s a model that’s never been done? I don’t think we need to use the watershed as an experimental project.......Miller said the loggers can’t be trusted. You can tie a red flag around the trees to be cut, but sometimes they “accidentally” cut more than you mark. The trees can’t be put back afterwards. “Who’s going to police this if it ever takes place?” Miller asked"
If you are at all interested in learning about sustainable forestry, read the entire article. I will be very interested to see how the Waynesville experiment plays out.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Take a hike

The nation's newest conservancy is also one of the oldest. The 80 year old Appalachian Trail Conference has changed its name to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. Makes it sound more like an environmental organization that a small college football league, and they don't even have to change the monograms on their luggage! Seriously now, why the change? Here's the explanation on the new website.
"“Conference” does not describe our primary work today, and it confuses people who might otherwise want to support us. (Not to mention those who call seeking to rent a meeting room at our “conference center.”) While the Appalachian Trail welcomes three to four million visitors a year, only a tiny fraction—less than one percent—are members of the ATC, supporting the uncommon care behind the uncommon place they have just enjoyed. Our research showed that Trail users did not see a reason to join an organization that, if they knew about it at all, exists only to coordinate “the real work” done by others.
If the A.T. is going to survive well into the twenty-second century, we must lay the groundwork now for raising our profile and growing our membership base. Without a higher public profile and broader public support, we will be unable to fend off the impact of threats, such as communications towers and road construction and tree-killing pollution, or provide the Trail-maintaining clubs with the financial and other support that they have identified as a critical need."

The name change was made last year and actually became effective July 4th.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Elvis lives

Those doubting Thomases who questioned the existence of the Ivory Billed Woodpecker are now eating, their words. As is being widely reported audiotapes of the bird's distinctive cry have won over the skeptics. And it looks like Elvis has a Priscilla out there with him.
"“The bird that we saw had to have a mommy and a daddy,” said Scott Simon, director of the Nature Conservancy in Arkansas. “We have solid evidence for one. We believe there are more."
And to stretch the Presley metaphor even more (it is almost death week, you know), the next step is to make sure that Graceland stays in good shape.
Farmers in the three county area around Brinkley, Arkansas are being asked to attend a meeting tonight on financial incentives (read conservation easements) to preserve the habitat around the Big Woods.
Up to 6,200 acres of private land is wanted to establish a Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program near where the rare woodpecker was spotted. Conservationists say having the farmer's cooperation would preserve the bird's habitat in the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge. The meeting is planned for Tuesday at 6:30 at the Brinkley Convention Center.
Let's keep Elvis out of Heartbreak Hotel. Thank you very much.

Monday, August 01, 2005

The Lorax diaries

Thanks to Andy over at Gristmill for the nice plug for Nature Noted. In a leap of connections that only hypertext can follow, the shout-out was inspired by a deep discussion over at The Commons on the underlying environmental themes in Dr. Seuss's story of the Lorax. You just can't make this stuff up. Anyway, thanks so much for the kind words. By the way, I definitely prefer the term Gristmillers.

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