Archive for December, 2009

New Year’s LandMark – Raspberry Farm

December 30, 2009

The painting above is solid evidence that the conservation impulse can be habit-forming.

Stephen Hodecker, a professional artist of obvious skill and some reknown, donated the painting to help raise funds for the protection of the Raspberry Farm, in Hampton Falls, New Hampshire–a much-loved local property named for the fruit that was once raised and sold there.  The farm is particularly noted for the historic barn featured in the painting

The $1.61 million campaign to save the farm ends today — and the last I heard, several bids are being made on the painting that would put the effort over the top.

Stephen Hodecker - Photo: Ruth Sikes

This is the second painting Hodecker has donated to conservation–but it may not his last.  Like many TPL supporters, he got hooked by a local project, the protection of Page Pond and Forest in Meredith, New Hampshire, where he lives.  The watercolor he painted in support of that project raised $34,000.  After the success of that campaign, he approached TPL project manager Betsy MacGean and asked, essentially: “what’s next.”

Now both paintings have become part of a new series Hodecker in calling “Landscapes in Peril,” McGean says. “Stephen has become a great supporter of our urgent campaigns!”

A quick trip to Hodecker’s website may help you understand the basis of this inclination to conserve.  It is full of rural scenes that bespeak a love of the New England landscape and its historic buildings.

Anyway, I liked the painting and thought it looked like the New Years I remember from Massachusetts.  Happy New Year from LandNotes.   See you in 2010.

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Conservation finance links, 12/15-12/29

December 30, 2009

Twice each month, TPL’s Conservation Finance service posts links to recent stories about state and local conservation finance .

Colorado
Summit County 2009 open space successes highlighted

Boulder County works towards easement certification

Florida
Update of Alachua County’s Wild Spaces and Public Spaces 2008 sales tax

Massachusetts
Legislation hopes to improve CPA

MassWildlife protect over 10,000 acres in past fiscal year

Missouri
Opinion piece on the loss of land in the Ozarks

Montana
Gallatin County to put conservation program on hold

New Jersey
Church and TNC partner to protect land

New York
PlaNYC cuts 24 sites in park plan due to lack of funding

Pennsylvania
State conservation programs in need of funding infusion

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Yes – more people are living near conserved lands

December 29, 2009

New homes near Truckee, CA - Photo: Rich Reid

It’s nice when an academic study confirms what you thought you knew all along.   So it is a much-cited study that appeared last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences about housing development near parks, wilderness areas, and conserved lands.  

The title of the study pretty much says it all: “Housing growth in and near United States protected areas limits their conservation value.”  A  summary  can be found on the New York Times website.  Or the entire document in PDF can be found here

Funded by the U.S. Forest Service, the study was conducted by researchers from the University of Wisconsin, the Forest Service’s Northern Research Station and Rocky Mountain Research Station.  

Our study shows that housing growth in and near US protected areas has been strong for 6 decades, and that lands near protected areas are attractive for development. If development continues unabated, it will further limit the conservation value of protected areas, and biodiversity will be impoverished. Management tools and land-use policies exist to ameliorate development threats, but historic housing growth suggests that these tools have either not been implemented or have not been successful in redirecting housing growth away from protected areas. Stronger efforts focusing on housing development within and near protected areas are needed if the conservation benefits of protected areas are to be enjoyed by future generations. 

While conservationists may not have had access to the convincing data in this paper, they have been focused for years on preventing inappropriate development near and within national parks, national forests, and wilderness areas.  For example, this is one of the prime goals of  such TPL efforts as the Montana Legacy Project and the Sierra Checkerboard Initiative

Coincidently  a story in the Oregon Buisness Times highlights wildlands development in that state and efforts to create community forests on private timber lands that might otherwise be developed.  

Oregon loses an average of 2,600 acres of wildland forest a year, 80 percent of which is converted to low-density residential, according to the Oregon Department of Forestry. 

“Economically, those counties are going to be better off if that land doesn’t go to development,” says economist Ray Rasker, who studied the impact of development in Montana’s forests. “From a firefighting standpoint, any tax benefit would be outstripped pretty quickly.” 

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Conservation and taxes in Vermont

December 28, 2009

LaPlatte River Headwaters, VT - Protected 2007 - Photo: Kurt Budlinger Photography

In the decade since TPL published “The Economic Benefits of Parks and Open Space,” that and succeeding reports on the same topic have been best sellers on the home website.  It is a complex subject– so much so that TPL now employs its own economist to decode the issues–but in many instances it can be shown that conservation does not cost, but pays.

One question that comes up repeatedly is the impact of conservation on local taxes. A recently released report from the Vermont Land Trust attempts to answer that question for the Green Mountain State. 

What is the impact on local property taxes when someone permanently conserves their land? Do taxes increase, decrease, or stay the same? Does it matter if the land is conserved by a conservation easement or if it is purchased by a government entity?

In response to these and other questions from landowners, members, town officials, and assessors, the Vermont Land Trust asked Deb Brighton, VLT Board of Trustees member and legislative tax policy consultant, to analyze the short- and long-term impacts of land conservation on Vermont property taxes.

The report concludes:

The conventional wisdom is that more development means lower taxes and more conservation
means higher taxes. Except in communities that have a high percentage of vacation homes, the
reality is often just the opposite.

Open space tends to require few public services. More people tend to require more public
services, resulting in higher taxes.

The purpose of this research is not to suggest that conservation is always good or that development is always bad. Each town must decide what it wants and what it needs to be a great community and make choices about conservation and development based upon those goals. If this research has shed some light on the associations between land use and taxes, so that local officials can make better decisions, then the author’s objective has been accomplished.

The full report runs 7 pages, is a PDF, and can be found here.

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National monuments proposed for Mojave Desert

December 22, 2009

Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Senator Diane Feinstein’s proposal to create two new national monuments in the Mojave Desert comes at a time when that landscape is much on my mind.  For many years, my wife and I would get in the car the day after Christmas and drive from our San Francisco home south across the Central Valley and over Tehachapi Pass into the desert on our way to visit family in Tucson.  

By leaving before dawn, we were able to time the trip so we were crossing the most scenic part of the Eastern Mojave in the hours before sunset.  We haven’t made that journey in years, but every December I get to thinking how much I miss it, especially crossing the desert’s uncompromising and dramatic landscape in the slanted light of late afternoon. 

In the late 1980s and early 1990s I made several trips to the Mojave in pursuit of story ideas for a series on rural California that I was writing for a San Francisco newspaper.  That was when Senator Feinstein–a longtime supporter of desert conservation–was working to create the current Mojave National Preserve in the East Mojave, and one of my first stories was about a rancher who was resisting that effort but eventually sold his land to TPL for protection. (This was a half-dozen years before I would join TPL’s staff.) 

Some of the press about the current bill–like this article in the New York Times –centers on the tension between conservation and clean energy development. Solar energy entrepreneurs have been eyeing the Mojave because of its abundant sunshine and “empty” spaces.  (Emptiness being precisely the appeal of the place for many desert lovers.) 

The debate over the monument encapsulates a rising tension between two goals held by environmental groups: preservation of wild lands and ambitious efforts to combat global warming.

Not only is the desert land some of the sunniest in the country, and thus suitable for large-scale power production, it is also some of the most scenic territory in the West. The Mojave lands have sweeping vistas of an ancient landscape that is home to desert tortoises, bighorn sheep, fringe-toed lizards and other rare animals and plants.

Across the West, we are going to be presented with hard decisions on how to balance the much-needed development of clean energy with the equally important preservation of wild landscapes.  Senator Feinstein has jump-started the conversation as it pertains to the Mojave by suggesting that we set aside a couple of the most scenic and habitat-rich locations for conservation.

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Conservation easements beat year-end deadline

December 21, 2009

In the wake of Metallica rocker James Hetfield’s donation of two conservation easements to Marin County, California, I began to notice announcements of other large easement donations.  For example, this one, by the Big Sur Land Trust, over the 1,107-acre Colinas Ranch, north of Salinas, California.  Or this one, over the largest farm in Kent County, Maryland–almost 2,900 acres including 9.2 miles of Chesapeake Bay shoreline–to be held by the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy and Maryland Environmental Trust.

It would be hard to choose which of these easements is the greatest gift to the public good.  Colinas Ranch, owned by Dr. Ron Stoney and Linda Stoney supports a crucial wildlife corridor between the Gabilan and Santa Cruz mountain ranges, frequented by  mountain lions, black-tailed deer, foxes, coyotes and bobcats.  Preventing development of Andelot Farm, owned by Louisa Duemling, will help preserve habitat and the water quality of the Chesapeake Bay, that most threatened of East Coast estuaries. 

No one should ever question the conservation intent behind such significant donations of land value.  But this flurry of easement donations two weeks  before a federal tax deduction for easements is set to expire may suggest the importance of that incentive in moving these conservation deals forward. 

TPLs Federal Affairs staff reported on the expiring incentive in the last Washington Watch email newsletter, available by free subscription.  As of the moment, the reauthorization of the amendment–like everything else in Washington that isn’t about health care–is stalled until after the new year.  Most observers believe that the deduction eventually will be reauthorized and made retroactive.  But laws aren’t made until the votes are counted, and if you have a huge, valuable easement to donate, it kind of makes sense finish up the paperwork now.

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LandMark: Jenner Headlands, California

December 18, 2009

Photo: Brant Ward, San Francisco Chronicle

Congratulations to our friends at the Sonoma Land Trust for conserving 5,630 acres of grasslands and redwood forests along the Sonoma County coast.  A story in today’s San Francisco Chronicle describes the deal and the land’s history and environmental importance.  The protection of the land north of the Russian River compliments 3,373-acres that TPL protected south of the river in 2005.  Together, conservation groups and state agencies have set aside an almost unbroken 30-mile stretch of the Sonoma Coast, from Bodega Head to Fort Ross.

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A rockin’ conservationist

December 17, 2009

Photo: Wikipedia Commons

So how often do I get a chance to run a glorious black-and-white photo of a heavy-metal rocker?   

The news that Metallica frontman James Hetfield has donated his second conservation easement to Marin County, California, is all over the web today, including this story from the Marin Independent Journal carried on the MercuryNews.com website.   The easements, totalling almost 770 acres,  preclude development on land surrounding the musician’s home. 

This is a really exciting offer,” said Supervisor Steve Kinsey.  He said Hetfield was “taking a break from heavy metal to become a heavy contributor to our agricultural conservation efforts.

Over on WalletPop, a personal finance website, can be found an brief analysis of what Hetfield may have had to gain, including tax benefits, from donating the easements.

Most stories mention the rocker’s wish for privacy as  motivation for the donation. But whatever his reasons, a 770-acre conservation easement is nothing to shake a guitar at, and we should all be glad to see the land protected.

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Mapping children’s access to nature in Kalamazoo

December 17, 2009

Photo: Scott Rolfson

First published in 2005, journalist Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods has been influential beyond what anyone could have imagined at the time. The message that America’s kids are losing touch with nature has given rise to a broad-based movement to “leave no child inside.” TPL, which offered assistance to Rich Louv soon after the book was published, has sponsored some of his presentations and published his ideas in Land&People magazine. 

In Kalamazoo, Michigan, Louv’s nonprofit, the Children and Nature Network , launched a community-driven pilot process to help kids connect with nature. But there was no baseline data–no way to know which kids had access to nature and which did not. What they needed was a map showing all city, county, and school parks, playgrounds, and green spaces and how their locations related to key demographic data. 

TPL’s Conservation Vision service helped them put this together and has now published a page about the project on TPL’s website. 

With help from the Kalamazoo Nature Center’s research department, TPL first collected the data to map all city, county, and other publicly accessible parks, greenspaces and nature play areas, such as school playgrounds. Then, TPL GIS developers created a vulnerability index using key demographic data: 

Children from birth to 14 years of age;
Percentage of population comprised of minorities;
Percent of population making less then $25,000 a year;
Population density. 

This analysis gave a sense of where the most vulnerable populations reside. These areas were color-coded with dark red and orange, and overlaid with the greenspace map to show the relationship of vulnerable populations to outdoor nature-based recreational opportunity. 

A second analysis involved using GIS data, imagery, and first-person descriptions to assess parks’ and schools’ abilities to provide natural play opportunities, and scoring them according to how naturally diverse the play areas are. Factors such as percentage of area developed or paved and the presence of natural areas, such as wetlands, forest, water features, unmowed grass or garden were considered. 

Parks with a diversity of habitats and accessible natural play areas, and schools with small amounts of paved surfaces with grass for open play ranked good to excellent. TPL applied the concept of buffers around existing parks, playgrounds, and recreational open spaces to determine the quarter-mile, or 10-minute, walking radius around these sites (a metric recommended by the National Recreation and Park Association) and their proximity to the identified vulnerable populations. 

Read on at tpl.org

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Compact cities for climate protection

December 15, 2009

Eastern Promenade greenway, Portland, ME - Photo Nan Cummings

Even as we were posting yesterday on the importance of cities and city parks in climate protection, Kaid Benfield was writing,  “Hey, Copenhagen: climate protection must include smart, walkable neighborhoods” over on NRDC’s Switchboard blog.  Benfield is a cogent writer on smart growth matters,  and he links through to a post from the Copenhagen summit that also deals with the climate benefits of compact cities.

Much of the focus in these posts is on energy saved from transportation and home use.  I would add that to secure these benefits and attract people to city living, we will need greenways to support non-motorized transportation and parks to serve as communal backyards for more densely settled communities.

As the planet’s environmental movers and shakers convene to hammer out some form of agreement for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, however inadequate it is likely to be, at least they are lucky to be in one of the most walkable cities in the world.  Copenhagen is a veritable model of human-scaled urbanism, with incredibly pleasant streets and neighborhoods where, it seems, almost no one needs a car to get around.  If US metro regions, which as we know tend to be spread out and car-dependent, not to mention carbon-intensive, could pick up a few lessons from the Danish capital, we could forge a substantial reduction in our carbon footprint.

Read on at NRDC’s Switchboard

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