Nature Noted

Notes on a changing Nature

Location: Bellville, Texas, United States

I never would have predicted this one

Sunday, January 29, 2006

No Going Back?

Depressed yet? If not, this article should do the trick
"Now that most scientists agree human activity is causing Earth to warm, the central debate has shifted to whether climate change is progressing so rapidly that, within decades, humans may be helpless to slow or reverse the trend.
This "tipping point" scenario has begun to consume many prominent researchers in the United States and abroad, because the answer could determine how drastically countries need to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions in the coming years. While scientists remain uncertain when such a point might occur, many say it is urgent that policymakers cut global carbon dioxide emissions in half over the next 50 years or risk the triggering of changes that would be irreversible.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

It's getting hot in here

2005 warmest year in last 100 years.... and that's without any major weather disturbances.... yikes.
2005 warmest year on record:NASA.
"Here's a striking fact from the NASA press release: Since 1890 the global average temperature has increased about 1.4 degrees F., but a full degree of that has been in just the past three decades. It's a different world than the one many of us were born into. And the bad thing about wrecking the Earth is that it's not the kind of thing where you're given a do-over."
..Yes, I'm getting my science from a humorist... but read the rest of Joel Achenbach and his reader's comments in the Washington Post.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

They like you, they really like you....

Folks at The Nature Conservancy should be feeling pretty good about themselves. A nationwide Harris Poll found TNC to be the most trusted among 13 national large non-profits. That's great news for an organization that's been rocked by investigations in recent years over controversial easement practices. Looking at the results, it's clear that most people still view TNC, and I think land trusts in general, as a non-controversial organization.
According to the poll, of those who are familiar with it, 27% of respondants trust TNC a "great deal" with 52% marking "fair amount" for a combined "trust" rating of 79%. Only 16% said "not very much" and 4 % were at "not at all".
The AARP finished second on the trust rankings, the Sierra Club came in fifth with 59% trust. Greenpeace came in with a somewhat surprising 56% trust. I say surprising because the more controversial the organization, the lower its scores tended to be. The NRA and AFL-CIO came in at the bottom.
Part of the reason for the high TNC score may be a lack of familiarity. Only 47% of respondants said they were familiar with it. The groups with the highest negatives also had the highest level of familiarity. 90% of those polled knew what the NRA was, 81% know Greenpeace.
An interesting breakdown shows that Democrats & Independents trust TNC the most... at 85% & 80%. Republicans lagged behind at 68%. (Republicans liked the Chamber of Commerce & the Business Roundtable the most).
So the poll indicates both good things, and work for TNC, (as well as the Sierra Club).
The good news is that the recent Senate investigations and newspaper series haven't shaken the trust of people who know what TNC does, but only a bare majority of Americans are even familiar with the organization. So while there is work to be done, so far, so good.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Saving the Camp

A campaign is underway to keep America's first Boy Scout camp from being developed. Camp Owasippe is a 48 hundred acre camp on Lake Michigan that has been used by Chicago area Boy Scouts for decades. The Scout Council has decided it can't afford to keep it anymore, and wants to sell it for development as a residential subdivision. Land Choices is organizing an opposition campaign to the rezoning. You can sign the petition opposing the plan and learn more about the camp at the link.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Highlighting The Comments

I know it's a little redundant to repost comments... but a recent exchange is worth pointing out. Tim Abbott of Walking the Berkshires posted a thoughtful comment (and officially the longest one in the history of Nature Noted!) on the Block Island acquisition noted below. Tim raises questions about funding priorities. The response from Anonymous (that guy is everywhere) continues the dialogue. Check them both out, and let's continue the dialogue. This is fun. Thanks to both for their comments.

Tim Abbott said...
Pat, the Block Island conservation deal you describe raises more than just eyebrows at the extraordinary costs associated with land protection in such areas with extremely high real estate values.

For starters, TNC's internal funding mechanism has long given that organization great flexibility to close projects before all the donations have been secured. Clearly, in high wealth places like Block Island or the nearby Massachusetts Islands, there is the expectation that those borrowed funds will be reimbursed from local sources. However, the Land Protection Fund or LPF is used by the entire organization, and in recent years its available resources have been almost fully committed. Repayment with interest is usually expected in 36 months, but the Block island case does beg the question of whether hugely expensive projects like this should be tapping the LPF, or instead developing and leveraging other sources of funding so that projects in less wealthy areas - but no less deserving of conservation funding -have secure access to internal LPF loans.

A second consideration is more philosophiocal: namely,whether
the conservation value of the land protected on Block Island is worth the effort and expense required to conserve it. I mean no disrespect toward what are clearly deeply important cultural, aesthetic, and ecological values associated with land on Block Island. A great deal of protection has taken place there, and clearly there are donors willing to support such expensive protection projects. But I would hope that there is also an open and honest assessment by TNC, as a global conservation organization with many priorities, of whether it can or should continue to expend such resources on high cost protection in such places, or whether there are other methods to use on Block Island and protection efforts elsewhere that should receive priority.

Of course, just because conservation organizations can raise $12 million dollars for a project on Block Island - or $64 million for another or Martha's Vineyard, for that matter - doesn't mean those resources can be easily reallocated. A unilateral policy of reallocation would in any case challenge the intent of many donors. But setting priorities should challenge TNC to consider alternatives to hugely expensive land deals with small acreages unless those acres are the most irreplaceable and important conservation land the organization could be protecting in that ecoregion. Going to scale, after all, should be going to the "appropriate" scale to conserve the conservation target, and sometimes that doesn't need to be very large.

I also realize that we are dealing with highly relative values here. After all, how does one compare something like a small patch of sandplain grassland in one place with 25,000 acres of boreal forest in another? But surely a conservation vision for the North Atlantic Coast Ecoregion, in which Block Island is a component part, will have to grapple with how much highly expensive land protection can and should be accomplished as part of TNC's overall conservation strategy.

The partnership between TNC and the Block Island Land Trust is commendable. TNC's entire approach to conservation area planning has changed dramatically in the last 20 years. I am sure the Rodman's Hollow area is still a high priority for the Block Island Land Trust, and I'd be interested in knowing how it contributes to Conserving TNC's ecoregional portfolio targets within the North Atlantic Coast.

A friend with TNC on Martha's Vineyard, Tom Chase, has advocated the need there for an "undevelopment" strategy, since most of his "conservastion targets" lack sufficent size or representation on the island to meet minimal viability thresholds. Does this reflect the situation on Block Island as well, and how does protecting these acres contribute toward reaching those viability goals?

I'd be curious to know what others may think.
8:35 PM
Anonymous said...
Tim Abbott makes thoughtful, well-informed points. Some random thoughts: As a Rhode Islander who has followed TNC's efforts here for some time, I'm glad to see that they're sticking to priorities and places (Block Island is one of their "10 Last Best Places," or whatever the phrase is)to which they've already devoted their scientific and their financial resources. For better or worse, conservation groups have become big players in the real estate markets of the coastal communities in this region. There seems to be some sense in securing remaining major parcels now, partly to protect the resources already purchased in the same area. The prices seem ridiculous now, but they may appear cheap a few years from now. TNC is doing its job protecting natural resources in these areas. I worry about the cultural prospects of some of these coastal communities, but they will face those challenges anyway simply because of their location. TNC and other organizations should of course be adaptable, but they are probably in a better position than, say, government agencies to carry out long-term acquisition and management policies without being buffeted by shifting political winds or scary real-estate prices.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Speaking of Expensive

This one won't come cheap, either... Check out The Nature Conservancy Partners With 100 Groups To Save Most Significant 25,000 Acres Of Open Space & 10,000 Acres Farmland On (Long Island) ......“Long Island’s Last Stand” Initiative Aims to Preserve Long Island’s Quality of Life

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

One Expensive Block

It's the old real estate saw, location, location, location. And just as you pay more for that house in the hot neighborhood, so land trusts have to pay more for property with a high development value. That's also why The Nature Conservancy and the Block Island Trust were willing to buy 40 acrews on Rhode Island's Block Island for a cool $12 million.
On Wednesday, Dec. 28, The Nature Conservancy and the Block Island Land Trust completed a transaction to conserve 40 acres of land just south of Rodmanís Hollow. This property has been a conservation priority for more than 20 years, completing the visionary work in this area begun by Capt. John R. "Robî" Lewis in 1972, and added to throughout the years.
This unique and spectacular tract abuts Rodmanís Hollow to the north and Black Rock to the west. It is perhaps the most ecologically significant, undeveloped, unprotected property remaining on Block Island, and one that many people thought was already conserved.
In addition to the conservation value of this property, it will allow for a continuation of the walking trails in Rodmanís Hollow to finally reach Black Rock (as opposed to walking on the old road). It will also ensure that the beach access and parking at Tomís Cove, a popular fishing and surfing spot, remains open to the public. Also as a result of this transaction, the town will have an improved and widened Snake Hole Road beach access.
The transaction has four components. First, The Nature Conservancy, with the help of the Block Island Land Trust, purchased 25 acres (two tracts) for $7,070,000, its fair market value, from the Jones family. Second, The Nature Conservancy received the outright donation of another 2-acre parcel from the Jones family. Third, The Nature Conservancy accepted the donation of a 13-acre conservation easement from Graham and Gay Jones. Finally, the Town of New Shoreham, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, Graham and Gay Jones, and The Nature Conservancy entered into a joint management agreement for the Rodmanís Hollow/Black Rock area that will ensure public access and appropriate public use for the area in perpetuity.
With the gifts of land and easements, the total value of this transaction exceeds $12 million, the highest-value Block Island conservation transaction ever. Of the $7,070,000 purchase price, the Land Trust has agreed to pay for almost half, and The Nature Conservancy will pay the balance. This necessitated The Nature Conservancy to secure a substantial loan from its internal revolving Land Preservation Fund. This is The Nature Conservancyís largest debt ever incurred on a single Block Island transaction.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Green Ranches

The Green Ranching movement is getting a little bit of buzz this week. The Arizona Republic has the story of how the Grand Canyon Trust and the Conservation Fund have become among the biggest ranch owners in Arizona.
In one of the largest deals of its kind, Two Mile Ranch and neighboring Kane Ranch were sold last year to Grand Canyon Trust and the Conservation Fund, environmental groups trying to position themselves on the leading edge of the so-called green ranch movement.
Guided by a detailed ecological study of the ranches and the accompanying grazing allotments, the groups want to restore depleted springs and forest areas and drive out invasive weeds and shrubs. They plan to unleash an army of volunteers to clean up the battered rangelands that sit along the Grand Canyon and include some of the West's most iconic landscapes.
Amid those audacious plans, ranching will continue. As much as the groups might like to end ranching on their corner of the plateau, they can't. Federal laws don't allow a new owner to take over grazing permits and just not use them, which means the trust and the fund must buy cattle and run a ranch on nearly 850,000 acres of high Arizona desert.
They also must work within federal land-management rules. The groups own fewer than 1,100 acres; the rest is public land, open to recreation, to hunting and still subject to laws that were written to encourage multiple uses.
The groups, which have questioned the value of open-range grazing in the past, see the irony of their situation and often point it out themselves.
"We still think we're the best option out there," said Rick Moore, director of the Kane and Two Mile ranch program for the trust. "For a traditional permit-holder, the tendency might be to graze more cows. We can do the opposite. We're driven by ecological needs, not economic. We can put money back into the land because we're not trying to put kids through college."

Meanwhile, the San Diego Union-Tribune has a nice column on Green Ranching... noting similar efforts in California..
Times are slowly changing.
Capitalizing on growing public concern about food safety, some ranchers now specialize in grass-fed beef. Rather than spending their last months in feedlots shot full of antibiotics, these cattle live more like their 19th century ancestors. A recent tax-code provision (some call it a loophole) encourages ranchers to go organic, to keep grasslands free of herbicides and pesticides – and out of development. In the past, environmental groups have mostly opposed range grazing, a position that, ironically, has put them at odds with the organic, grass-fed beef proponents. But that predisposition may be moderating.
In 1997, ranchers formed the nonprofit, rancher-run California Rangeland Trust, primarily to keep rangelands in agriculture. "As California's population continues to grow, ranchers should begin to recognize the value of undisturbed landscapes to those seeking experiences outside of their urban environment," according to a report by the University of California's Integrated Hardwood Range Management Program, which praises the trust – and then adds a twist:
Much of the state's native grassland vegetation evolved in the presence of grazing animals – and may be genetically programmed for grazing. "To be sure, cattle are not the same as mastodons, camels, ancient horses and bison that once grazed here, but their use of the land may better reflect that historical use than if they are excluded entirely," according to the report.
No question about it, better grazing techniques are needed, but cows certainly pose less of a threat to grassland or oak forests than do housing tracts.

And this weekend, the Quivira Coalition will have its 5th annual conference in Albuquerque, "Bridging the Urban - Rural Divide: Reconnecting People to Land and Each Other..
Courtney White and the Quivira Coalition have been the biggest proponents of the notion that there's a place for ranching and good environmental practices to coexist... living in the Radical Center. The conference has an impressive agenda and list of speakers. If you happen to be hanging out in New Mexico this weekend with nothing to do, go check it out. It's all the buzz.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Sacred Trust

Many people view nature as a touch of the divine, but some places are a little more sacred than others. Case in point, Bear Butte, South Dakota.. More than 60 Native American tribes consider the mountain to be sacred, but as with the rest of the Black Hills, development is beginning to encroach. That's why an effort is underway to start a land trust designed to preserve the peace and quiet of their sacred spot.
" A land trust fund was seen as the only permanent solution to stopping the selling of land surrounding the small, sacred mountain. The organization was able to stop the building of an outdoor shooting range that was planned on a location four miles north of the Butte. The businessmen planning the venture had illegally received federal funds that were supposed to benefit low and middle-income people. The illegality was uncovered in a lawsuit filed by the Defenders of the Black Hills and seven Native American tribes.
But now a private operator is planning on building a biker bar and outdoor concert arena just one and a half miles from the base of the mountain.
Since many people want to help protect the land surrounding Bear Butte, the organization decided that opening a land trust fund would allow everyone the opportunity to do fund raising events and contribute to the fund. The price of the land surrounding the Butte is high as realtors use the sacred mountain in their advertisements.
Defenders plan on keeping any land that they are able to purchase in a natural state to insure the sacredness of Bear Butte is not disturbed.
The organization recently received their designation as a tax-exempt non-profit organization capable of receiving gifts and donations. They work on environmental and sacred site issues in the Midwest with no paid staff.
Donations to the Bear Butte Land Trust Fund may be sent to Wells Fargo Bank, 825 St. Joseph St., Rapid City, SD 57701. Bank transfers are also available by contacting any Wells Fargo Bank. "

Yeah, nothing like a biker bar and concert arena to help you in your efforts to achieve one with the cosmos. And don't you love the fact that the reason the property cost is high, is because "the sacred mountain" is used in advertisements? Let's hope the Bear Butte Land Trust gets up and going soon.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Saving The Not So Cute

The NY Times had an article yesterday that talked about the human trait to be drawn to, and to try to protect the "cute things" of the world. Like pandas, penguins and little puppy dogs. The story even goes so far as to opine that we're now even buying "cute" things like a Prius or Mini-Cooper instead of those not-so-cute SUV's. (I think gas mileage might have a little more to that than the cute factor.)
"Scientists who study the evolution of visual signaling have identified a wide and still expanding assortment of features and behaviors that make something look cute: bright forward-facing eyes set low on a big round face, a pair of big round ears, floppy limbs and a side-to-side, teeter-totter gait, among many others.
Cute cues are those that indicate extreme youth, vulnerability, harmlessness and need, scientists say, and attending to them closely makes good Darwinian sense. As a species whose youngest members are so pathetically helpless they can't lift their heads to suckle without adult supervision, human beings must be wired to respond quickly and gamely to any and all signs of infantile desire.
The human cuteness detector is set at such a low bar, researchers said, that it sweeps in and deems cute practically anything remotely resembling a human baby or a part thereof, and so ends up including the young of virtually every mammalian species, fuzzy-headed birds like Japanese cranes, woolly bear caterpillars, a bobbing balloon, a big round rock stacked on a smaller rock, a colon, a hyphen and a close parenthesis typed in succession.
The greater the number of cute cues that an animal or object happens to possess, or the more exaggerated the signals may be, the louder and more italicized are the squeals provoked.
Cuteness is distinct from beauty, researchers say, emphasizing rounded over sculptured, soft over refined, clumsy over quick. Beauty attracts admiration and demands a pedestal; cuteness attracts affection and demands a lap. Beauty is rare and brutal, despoiled by a single pimple. Cuteness is commonplace and generous, content on occasion to cosegregate with homeliness.
Observing that many Floridians have an enormous affection for the manatee, which looks like an overfertilized potato with a sock puppet's face, Roger L. Reep of the University of Florida said it shone by grace of contrast. "People live hectic lives, and they may be feeling overwhelmed, but then they watch this soft and slow-moving animal, this gentle giant, and they see it turn on its back to get its belly scratched," said Dr. Reep, author with Robert K. Bonde of "The Florida Manatee: Biology and Conservation."
"That's very endearing," said Dr. Reep. "So even though a manatee is 3 times your size and 20 times your weight, you want to get into the water beside it."

I'll buy that we have a tendency to be attracted to the cute. Which gives a biological edge to those species that meet our instinctive cute-bias.
So you have to admire efforts to preserve the "non-cute" as well. In Florida, one effort involves preserving what little is left of the Florida Scrub, a non-cute name if there ever was one.
"Scrub is the unglamorous name for the Florida ecosystem that's similar to a desert. Sparsely populated by shrubs instead of trees with dry, sugary sand, it has one of the highest concentrations of endangered plant species in the United States. The ridge is the only home to 16 plants listed as endangered by the federal government, according to researchers at Archbold Biological Station in Lake Placid.
"Our existence on the planet Earth is lessened every time we lose one of our fellow inhabitants," Steve Morrison of The Nature Conservancy said of the need to preserve the ridge's unique ecosystem.
Though less well-known than the Everglades, the Lake Wales Ridge scrub is the oldest ecosystem in Florida. Today only about 15 percent of the scrub ecosystem that once existed in Florida survives. Much of the land was turned into citrus groves and ranch land, and more recently, housing developments."

In the scrub lives non-cute things like rare plants and fungi... which are are a bit hard to get excited about.
Now if they can only find some indigenous scrub pandas.... the effort might really get going.

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