Archive for December, 2009
Over on City Parks Blog, Ben Welle of TPL’s Center for City Park Excellence is highlighting the role of city parks in addressing climate change. Of the several ways conservation can help slow climate change, the creation of city parks is perhaps the least intuitive. But it makes all kinds of sense once you understand that residents of compact cities produce fewer greenhouse gasses per capita than those living in outlying areas, and that close-to-home parks and greenways are essential in creating the kinds of cities where people really want to live.
Several studies have shown that living in more compact settings can reduce emissions from transportation, with one indicating that vehicle miles traveled could be reduced per capita by up to 40 percent through better urban design. Researchers have also found that if 60 percent of new development were compact rather than sprawling, the reduction in U.S. carbon production would be around 10 percent.
Assuming this smarter growth pattern, there will be more apartments and townhouses and fewer, smaller private yards. The desire for more trees in the public realm will rise. Residents of yardless dwellings will be anxious to have green spaces and public places to relax, recreate and socialize outdoors. Transit facilities and use will increase, and pedestrian and bikers will want safe routes. For these and many other reasons there will be much more pressure for park systems that are beautiful, well-managed, nearby and accessible.
Techniques for raising conservation dollars have grown very sophisticated since TPL launched its Conservation Finance program more than a decade ago. In February, experts will present the latest and best thinking on conservation funding mechanisms at the Western Conservation Finance Boot Camp at Stanford University.
Cosponsored by TPL, Island Press, the Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford University, the Land Trust Alliance, and the Conservation Finance Forum, the week-long program is intended for land trust staff and other conservationists and limited to 20 students.
I love this story on Crosscut.com, a web news source covering the Pacific Northwest. The writer, Bob Simmons, seems to have internalized a crucial lessons in shaping narrative nonfiction: if a source tells you about a near-death experience, put it at the front of the piece.
Barbara Snow was alone in her home by the lake on that January morning. She awoke at 5 o’clock to a terrifying scraping and hammering at the sides of her house. She opened the door to her carport to see what was going on. Tons of muddy, ice-cold water rushed into the house. In moments the water was chest high and she was struggling in the darkness to get out.
“I thought I was dying,” Snow recalled last month. “I started to feel warm and at peace with everything. I began to see happy scenes from when I was a little girl.
“I thought to myself, I’ve always been late for everything, am I going to be on time for my death? For some reason this struck me as very funny, and I came to my senses.”
The year was 1983, and Snow was almost swept away after “bad logging on private and state-owned land, poorly built logging roads and a record rainstorm” on mountainous land sent “80 acres of mud, logs and timber slash” into Whatcom Lake near Bellingham, Washington.
The havoc energized the community to protect Lake Whatcom and the surrounding hillsides. The citizen-based groups Conservation Northwest and Whatcom Land Trust organized public pressure to have the land set aside in a timber and wildlife preserve.
Twenty-six years after the Smith Creek disaster, it’s happening. Under a land transfer agreement between [Whatcom County] and the state Department of Natural Resources, the land becomes what may be the state’s largest county park: 8,400 acres of timbered hills, within easy bicycle distance of Bellingham.
There is a lot of great detail in the piece about the land’s history and the current deal that could make it a park. Of course, voices are raised in opposition: we can’t afford to maintain a park, we should still be able to log the land. But Simmons gives the last word to Whatcom County Administrator Dewey Desler, who takes the long view and argues for the project.
Great stuff, and I won’t spoil the writer’s fine ending by quoting it here.
Blogging at The Huffington Post, TPL president Will Rogers makes the case for the conservation of domestic forests to get carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.
Much of the focus at this week’s climate summit in Copenhagen will be on capping the emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gasses. But another important focus will be on the protection of forests and other natural systems that absorb CO2 and keep it out of the atmosphere.
The need to prevent third-world deforestation is a well-established and vital global priority. Less well-known is the role our own domestic forests can play in absorbing and sequestering greenhouse gases.
Eagle-eyed readers will note that the above real estate flyer from 2007 seeks a breathtaking $30 million dollars for Bruin Ranch–a little less than 2,600 acres of oak-studded woodlands along the Bear River in Placer County California. For years, that figure–based on the land’s development value in a fast-growing region–has served as an effective deterrent to local conservationists who have sought to protect the land because of its natural beauty and value for recreation and as wildlife habitat.
Two years later, TPL and local Placer County Land Trust stand a good chance of picking up most of the land for $13 million. The reduction in prices for such conservation-worthy properties has been termed the recession’s “green lining” for conservationists.
National Public Radio listeners will hear more about the green lining and Bruin Ranch in an episode of Quest that is scheduled to air soon on the national network. But the program has already aired in Northern California, and listeners who can’t wait will find it here.
The deal is far from done. There will be an extensive campaign to raise the funds, and probably less money will come from public sources than would have in years past. Quest is clear on this flip side of the green lining: while land is cheaper, money is harder to find.
If the deal goes through, Bruin Ranch will be the centerpiece of over 6,000 acres of open space in the Sierra Foothills. The plan is to open this vast spread of oak woodlands, pristine Bear River frontage, ponds and rocky peaks to the public. . .
But it seems likely that TPL and PLT will have to count on less help from state agencies when it comes to opening this land to the public. There are real costs here: everything from building and maintaining bathrooms and trails to assuming legal liability for visitors. Ordinarily, these kinds of services would be fall to the local park and recreation department. But in a time of slashed budgets, can they afford to take on a new park?
The 200 page document –2009 California Climate Adaptation Strategy–may be more than most people want to tackle, but a nine-page executive summary highlights key recommendations. Of particular interest to conservationists will be this one:
Using existing research the state should identify key California land and aquatic habitats that could change significantly during this century due to climate change. Based on this identification, the state should develop a plan for expanding existing protected areas or altering land and water management practices to minimize adverse effects from climate change induced phenomena.
Other recommendations deal with water management, public health, planning, and regulation of development in areas that will be most impacted by climate changes.
As related on Bright Green blog of The Christian Science Monitor, Governor Schwarzenegger’s release of the report in San Francisco coincided with the unveiling of Google’s new mapping tool that allows users to view where sea levels could rise and wildfires might worsen in California due to global warming.
TPL’s own climate program includes adaptation conservation a key strategy.
According to the National Park Service, the flat, square state near the middle of the country is home to four national historic sites and a national prairie preserve and is crossed by five national historic trails. But it has never had a national park.
Now two of state’s major newspapers–The Kansas City Star and The Wichita Eagle–are editorializing to revive the spirit of a two-decade old idea and create a million-acre Buffalo Commons National Park in the northwest portion of the state.
In an attention-getting 1987 essay, Frank J. Popper and Deborah Popper suggested something much grander: returning 10 or 20 million acres of prairie to its native state, a notion met with derision within the region that would have been affected.
Among the reasons cited by the newspapers for reviving the idea are the economic benefits a park would bring to a section of the state that is rapidly losing population and the value of intact prairie for sequestering carbon.
Today, Buffalo Commons — far from threatening an iconic American lifestyle — may instead be a savior to the region
writes the Star’s editorial board.
The biggest asset of the region is its heritage, the prairie. The romance of an open space to the horizon — home to grazing bison, antelope, elk and deer — is the American story in a nutshell. Land as vast and open as an ocean.
The Star also notes that full funding for the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, now proposed in Congress, might supply the “less than $1 billion” that would be needed for land acquisition.
The San Francisco Chronicle is carrying a story by Drew Joseph on the importance of the federal conservation tax incentive to the preservation of agricultural land in the Bay Area.
Andy Beckstoffer, the founder of Napa Valley’s Beckstoffer Vineyards, wanted to donate a piece of his land to conservation, but it didn’t make sense financially – his property would bring in much more if he sold it than left it to grow grapes forever.
But when Congress passed legislation in 2006 to bolster tax deductions to those who donated conservation easements, Beckstoffer set aside the 90-acre To Kalon Vineyard in Rutherford.
“The tax incentive changed it all,” Beckstoffer said recently.
Now Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, is pushing to make permanent his temporary legislation that has prompted Beckstoffer and hundreds of other landowners across the nation to protect property from development.
The legislation, which expires at year’s end, has helped increase conservation easements by 50 percent nationwide, according to Thompson. But the bill is most important in the Bay Area, he said, because of the region’s rapid development rate and sky-high land values.
Full story here.
Sponsors of legislation to enact a permanent extension of the incentive are pressing House leadership to schedule a vote on the legislation. If the current law is permitted to expire, then donations of conservation easements will be treated the same as other charitable donations, subject to the 30% limit of adjusted gross income with a carryover period of only five years. Read More.