Nature Noted

Notes on a changing Nature

Location: Bellville, Texas, United States

I never would have predicted this one

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Land Trust or Tour Guide?

Is it education or influence peddling? Legitimate lobbying or buying a vote? The Nature Conservancy and a Connecticut Congresswoman are catching flak for a trip to Ecuador. The Hartford Courant is reporting on the reaction to the news that TNC paid for a jaunt to the Galapagos Islands to check out the Conservancy's work there. So what's the big deal?
The Nature Conservancy, which gets millions of dollars in federal money to help fund its conservation projects, spent $17,900 to send Rep. Nancy L. Johnson and her husband to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands to observe its work.
The nonprofit group spent $4,400 on lodging, $1,200 for meals and $12,300 in transportation expenses for the couple's trip, which began May 28 and ended June 5.
Johnson said the excursion was highly productive and typical of others she has taken throughout her 22-year House career. "I pick knowledge-based trips. I ask myself whether this is a subject I need to know about," she said, "and whether I'll be a better congressman if I know more........

Johnson's trip also sparked criticism from Washington watchdogs. William Allison, editor-at-large at Washington's Center for Public Integrity, which studies congressional travel, had questions about the Nature Conservancy's sponsorship.
He asked why an agency that relies on money from the U.S. Agency for International Development, or AID, would take Johnson and three other House members on such a trip.
"I know money is fungible, but the Nature Conservancy gets federal money, so the question is whether taxpayer money is funneled through them for lobbying," Allison said.
Jim Petterson, Nature Conservancy spokesman, said no government funds are used for the trips. "There's a very bright line we don't cross," he said.
The Nature Conservancy, which gets about $42 million in federal government grants per year, spent a total of $64,227 on the trips of the members - Johnson and Reps. John M. Spratt, D-S.C., Sam Johnson, R-Texas, and Ed Pastor, D-Ariz., - and their spouses.
Asked why Johnson's husband, Ted, came along at Nature Conservancy expense, Petterson said that the trip came during a 10-day Memorial Day congressional recess.
"In order to get folks to see such far-flung places that matter so much in terms of conservation, you need to give them time to spend time with their families," he said.

Aw, that's sweet. The Nature Conservancy, working to keep Congressional Families together. Ok, that's a little harsh. Actually Johnson did get to see what TNC is doing in Ecuador.
Johnson and her companions flew to Quito, the capital of Ecuador, and from there went to the Condor Bioreserve project outside the city. The 5.4-million-acre site, home to the endangered Andean condor, spectacled bear and mountain tapir, is the source of much of Quito's drinking water, and efforts are underway to protect its parklands.
The Nature Conservancy's Parks in Peril program helps the project and gets between $5 million and $7 million in AID funds per year. The program's funding authority will expire in the next fiscal year.
Johnson said she found that the Nature Conservancy brings together local people in a way the U.S. government cannot. "They can develop relationships with indigenous people," the congresswoman said, "and they use employees who are Ecuadorian, people deeply knowledgeable about preservation and conservation."

There's no doubt TNC is a major enterprise, and one that relies on tax dollars to fund its big budget projects. And we all know the way Washington works. So, I guess no one should be surprised that big players like TNC play the game. Still, it's sad that the game has to be played at all.

The Land Trust Alliance begins its annual Rally in Madison, WI this weekend. I can't make it up, but I'll be interested to hear how it goes. Next year the Rally is in Nashville, so hopefully I can make it over. If you have stories, please share!


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