Archive for April, 2010

Washington Watch

April 28, 2010

Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Periodically, the folks in TPL’s Federal Affairs department prepare a summary of conservation news from the nation’s capitol. The Washington Watch newsletter is available on the Web or by free email subscription.

Clicking on each topic brings up additional information.

White House Conference on America’s Great Outdoors
On Friday, April 16th, the White House sponsored a conference on America’s Great Outdoors, describing the event as a way to “address the challenges, opportunities and innovations surrounding modern-day land conservation and the importance of reconnecting Americans to the outdoors.” The event was held at the Department of the Interior. TPL was pleased to have been invited to attend the conference and sent several representatives to the conference including TPL’s President Will Rogers and California State Director Sam Hodder.

TPL and Urban Parks
TPL has joined the recently-formed Urban Park Coalition, spearheaded by the National Park and Recreation Association (NRPA), whose aims are to engage with Congress on urban park legislation. TPL is working on several fronts to advance knowledge about and consideration of the role of parks in addressing healthy communities.

Community Forest Program Grants
The Community Forest and Open Space Conservation Program, authorized in the 2008 Farm Bill, is a new program that will provide matching federal grants for purchase of local forestlands by local governments, tribes, and qualifying nonprofits. The program will ensure funding for the creation or expansion of community forests that can meet local needs for recreation, economic development, watershed protection, and other ecosystem services.

Conservation Tax Incentive Extension Awaits Congressional Action
The enhanced tax deduction for donations of conservation easements expired at the end of 2009. Despite the bipartisan support of well over half of the members of the House of Representatives and forty-one senators, a permanent extension of the provision has not yet been enacted. There has been some action on a temporary extension, however, but even that has been caught up in the cumbersome legislative machinery of Congress.

House and Senate “Dear Colleague,” Letters on LWCF and FLP
With the congressional appropriations process underway for FY 2011, Members of the House and Senate have written to the chairmen and ranking members of the respective appropriations subcommittees that oversee the Interior Department and the Forest Service to demonstrate their support for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and the Forest Legacy Program.

Public Testifies on Land Conservation Funding
Every year the House and Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittees invite the public to submit written testimony in advance of the writing of the annual Interior spending bills. The process allows the public to comment on important issues and to support various programs and projects before the subcommittees. This year the House Interior Subcommittee accepted written testimony until March 19. The Subcommittee also held a Public Witness Day session on March 25 in which participants delivered spoken testimony to the subcommittee.

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Conservation and historic preservation

April 23, 2010

Raspberry Farm, Hampton Falls, NH - Photo: Jerry and Marcy Monkman/EcoPhotography.com

 

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has added a section to its website that focuses on the link between conservation and preservation. Visiting there for the first time yesterday, I was pleased to see that TPL Heritage Lands projects among the examples cited. 

When a place has significant cultural importance the historic preservation movement stands ready to protect it. Many of us are also members of land conservation organizations that work to protect places of profound natural, agricultural, or open space value. But what about special places that boast a range of values? These places – often defined as cultural landscapes – are more than the sum of their parts. Loss of one dimension diminishes our experience of the whole place. Yet these complex sites can present challenges for organizations and resources structured to address solely historic preservation or land protection. 

Among the historic landscapes and buildings profiled in these pages are: 

  • The 175-mile-long Journey Through Hallowed Ground heritage corridor, a historic route along which TPL has protected land, and which we featured in the fall 2006 issue of Land&People magazine
  • The New Hampshire homestead of statesman and famed orator Daniel Webster (1782-1852, protected by TPL and local preservation groups in 2007.
  • Walden Woods–the home turf of Henry David Thoreau–protected by TPL and the Walden Woods Project in 1990. (This interview about the project with Eagles lead singer and preservationist Don Henley is worth a read.)
  • Raspberry Farm, in Hampton Falls, New Hampshire, protected by TPL in cooperation with the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance last year

There are lots of other projects profiled here–representing work by conservation and preservation groups nationwide. 

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As Earth Day turns 40

April 21, 2010

On this big birthday for Earth Day, I commend to you Peter Fimrite’s flash review of the environmental movement in 1,394 words that appeared in last Sunday’s San Francisco Chronicle. Fimrite places Earth Day in historical context, from the 19th-century roots of the conservation movement to our uncertainty in a time of economic anemia, political gridlock, and a looming climate crisis.

The first Earth Day on April 22, 1970, was, by all accounts, the beginning of a powerful grassroots movement, helped immeasurably by a famous TV commercial that premiered on Earth Day 1971 of an Indian shedding a tear as he saw pollution all around him.

Today, being green is routine in many people’s lives, but some of the environmental problems from 40 years ago still exist. The difference, according to conservationists, is that environmental issues are woven into the social, economic and political fabric of the country.

Fimrite’s piece is a great review of the topic for those of us who remember the 1970s — and a great introduction to it for those who have come along since.

One of the things to be thankful for as Earth Day enters middle age is that our president and his administration put conservation front and center last week by convening the America’s Great Outdoors conference. If you haven’t watched President Obama’s speech at the conference, it is only 11 minutes and well worth a look–especially to hear him say that, unlike Teddy Roosevelt, he will probably never kill a bear.

Those of us at TPL–the land-for-people people–were particularly gratified to have the president, in his remarks, endorse community-based recreation and conservation and highlight the importance of connecting people to nature where they live: “We want to foster a new generation of community and urban parks so that children across America have the chance to experience places like Millennium Park in my own Chicago.”

Later in the conference, Newark Mayor Corey Booker held up his city’s partnership with TPL as an example of how urban parks can be created and revitalized to bring outdoor recreation to city residents. Since 1995, TPL has worked with the city and donors to create nine new Newark parks and playgrounds.

Finally, I can’t help but point out the coincidence of Earth Day, 2010, with the eruption of that unpronounceable Icelandic volcano that brought air traffic to a halt over Northern Europe earlier this week. It never hurts to keep in mind that our technologies are feeble in the face of natural forces. Mother Nature can do some damage when she gets mad–we better learn how to live in her good graces.

(For those who do not recognize the above image, it is a screen capture from “The Crying Indian,” produced by the Ad Council and Keep America Beautiful and first aired on Earth Day 1971.  You can see the whole of this iconic ad here.)

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Conservation finance links, 4/15

April 19, 2010

Twice each month TPL’s Conservation Finance service publishes links to conservation finance stories from around the nation.

Arizona
Open space key to Prescott’s prosperity

Colorado
Residents meet to discuss Arapahoe County open space efforts
Open space effort gets green light in Garfield County

Florida
Florida Forever at a crossroads

Iowa
Sales tax increase for conservation seen as unlikely by lawmakers
Coalition forms to promote statewide conservation measure in Iowa.

Maryland
Borrowing keeps state land conservation programs afloat

New Jersey
Union County Freeholder wants to keep open space funding in place

Ohio
Licking County prepares for May parks levy

Oregon
Pear growers sour on land law protecting agricultural areas

Pennsylvania
Monroe County receives land preservation award

South Carolina
Dorchester County Council moves closer with $5M open space bond

Tennessee
State releases 10 year state parks plan

Utah
Park City may be headed to the ballot for another open space bond

Stewart Udall, the Cape Cod National Seashore, and TPL’s latest “wicked” project there

April 14, 2010

Wikipedia

In an op-ed in the Cape Cod Times, Phyllis Myers presents an interesting take on the legacy of former interior secretary Stewart Udall, who died on March 20.  Myers, who runs a consulting group in Washington D.C., worked with TPL on conservation finance issues in the 1980s.  More recently, she coauthored a book about the role of national parks–and one assumes that the ideas in the op-ed emerged from that work.

Essentially, Myers tells the Cape Cod audience that Udall led a movement to create national parks closer to population centers.

The creation of Cape Cod National Seashore in 1961 was more than a political gift to the new president and his nearby family home. The park was a turning point in the national park system’s evolution from the iconic, remote Yellowstone model to something called “parks for the people.”

Driving distance from Boston, Cape Cod National Seashore was the system’s first significant accommodation to urban reality. The park was largely made up of lands bought with federal dollars, not carved from land already in public ownership or donated. Moreover, its 40,000 acres of scenic dunes, glacial marshes, ponds and bays included 600 private homes in six towns with firm New England traditions of independence and home rule. In a first, park supporters, including President Kennedy, praised the park’s novel design for a new type of federal land protection umbrella sensitive to residents and towns.

History has confirmed Udall’s “prescient vision,” Myers states.  She goes on to discuss some of dilemmas that have arisen from the pioneering approach to park-making exemplified by the national seashore.

Coincidentally, the op-ed arrives as TPL is celebrating the completion of  its own latest project at the Cape Cod National Seashore – one very much in the spirit of Udall’s vision.  The privately owned North of Highland Camping Area long has provided the only family camping within the park.  A federally funded conservation easement will now ensure that the campground remains available for families who enjoy camping or could not otherwise afford accommodations on Cape Cod. 

A TPL press release about the project can be found here.  And there is a short article on the website Wicked Local Truro –a name you may find mysterious unless you are acquainted with Boston-area slang.

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LandMark: Crested Butte land conservation program

April 9, 2010

I was tickled to read in The Crested Butte News of yet another successful conservation effort to protect the lovely meadows surrounding that Colorado town.  In 1996, I drove to Crested Butte to write a story on the town’s conservation efforts for Land&People magazine.  The obviously aging photo above was taken on the trip–showing land protected by the Crested Butte Land Trust along the Slate River south of town.   Here is a snippet from that story:

From the picturesque ski village of Crested Butte, down the East and Gunnison River valleys toward the county seat of Gunnison, fields that once grew hay and cows now grow houses and condos, and “For Sale” signs sprout like spring iris in the verdant meadows.

Fourteen years later, the effort continues to protect one of the prettiest moutain valleys it has been my pleasure to visit–and many of the same players are involved.  These include TPL, which negotated the latest transaction and helped to assemble the funding; the Crested Butte Land Trust, which will hold an easement on the land; the Town of Crested Butte, which raises conservation funds through a real estate transfer tax; and Great Outdoors Colorado, a state conservation funding program that also contributed to the project. 

And I was pleased to note that town planner John  Hess, whom I interviewed in 1996, is still in his office in city hall.  From The Crested Butte News:

“This is an absolutely great piece of property,” said Hess. “It connects to a lot of other open space up Slate River. The visibility from town looking north is fantastic. I’ve been up in those aspens and seen elk migrating through there. It is a great piece of property.”

Its hard to imagine a more active conservation program for a town of its size.  The effort got started in 1991, when the town passed its conservation funding measure and the land trust was founded with TPL’s help.  By the time I visited in 1996, the town and the land trust together had protected 642 acres.  Today, the Crested Butte Land Trust boasts of more than 5,000 acres protected. 

Congratualtions to Crested Butte on this latest conservation victory.  I hope to get back to town soon to see the results of their labor.

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Conservation does not limit Silicon Valley housing

April 6, 2010

Mori Point, Golden Gate National Recreation Area - Conserved by TPL, 2002 Photo Tim Wirth

It’s expensive to live in Silicon Valley, and for years developers have pointed to the region’s many parks and conserved landscapes as a major reason for the high cost of housing.  If land is conserved it cannot be used for homes, the argument goes, and this forces up housing costs, pricing moderate income buyers out of the market. 

It may be a logical argument, but it not a valid one, according to recent research out of  Stanford University, which released a story in mid-March:

In a study conducted by the university’s Bill Lane Center for the American West, executive director Jon Christensen, sociology graduate student Carrie Denning and landscape ecologist Robert McDonald analyzed whether land conservation efforts in Silicon Valley – which has about 116,000 acres of protected parks, forests, waterfronts and wildlife refuges – have hurt housing development.

Their findings, published online in the journal Biological Conservation, suggest that land protection may not have much of an impact on the number of housing units available in the region. That’s because most of the protected land isn’t suitable for development, they say.

Yesterday, the San Francisco Chronicle published its own story on the Stanford research. 

Using a complicated measure to determine how development would have proceeded if more than 100,000 acres set aside for parks, wetlands and protected forest and wildlife areas had been left open for construction, the researchers found that only about 6.5 percent more housing units would have been built . . .

About 41 percent of those 51,000 new dwellings would have been in areas where the typical house is on a half-acre lot and sells for $1.5 million, which wouldn’t provide the affordable housing the Bay Area sorely needs.

As the Chronicle story suggests, the lack of land suitable for new homes is one more reason to increase the density of housing in already developed areas, especially those served by public transportation.

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Follow the Money

April 1, 2010

How much funding are state and local voters generating for parks and conservation? Nearly a decade ago, TPL’s Conservation Finance service launched the online database LandVote to answer this and other questions related to state and local conservation ballot measures.

Today anyone can go to LandVote to review conservation finance measures and results by year, state, and region along with the details of any of the 2,245 measures that have been placed on ballots and the 1,694 measures that have passed since 1988.

Each year since 2001, TPL publishes a printed version of the LandVote report, which contains data and editorial materials for the conservation year just past. The same data in the LandVote website allows you to prepare custom reports by state and year–a powerful research tool.

But whereas LandVote tracks how much money is being created, it does not track how funds are spent-how much land is being conserved and where. Until recently, there was no one place to gain a nationwide picture of how conservation funding is used.

TPL’s online Conservation Almanac fills that gap. Launched in 2006, this tool aggregates conservation data from private, local, state, and federal sources, allowing users to view dollars spent and acres conserved by hundreds of public agencies. The website incorporates LandVote data and information about the conservation policy framework of each state.

Earlier this year, the website was relaunched with advanced mapping capabilities. Rolled out for five states with others now being added, the maps display the location of the conserved lands detailed in the database.

The Conservation Almanac will be of particular interest to elected officials, researchers, journalists, conservation funders seeking to discover the impact of their work–and maybe you. As the Almanac grows, it will become the leading source of information about what lands are being protected and where the funds are coming from to protect them.

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