Archive for the ‘Conservation Trends’ Category

Maine conservation in 2009 — and a pitch for federal funding

January 4, 2010

Indian Cellar - Hollis Maine - Conserved 2009 Photo: Jerry and Marcy Monkman

As the Maine Sunday Telegram highlights Maine’s 2009 conservation accomplishments, a working group is completing a pitch for federal funding of conservation in that state’s North Woods.

From the Maine Sunday Telegram:

What began with low expectations and uncertainty about the economy ended as a big year for land conservation in Maine, with tens of thousands of acres of farmland, forest and lakefronts permanently preserved statewide in 2009, according to conservation advocates.

The deals range from landscape-scale purchases in the North Woods to strategic protection efforts in the more populated southern part of the state.

(That story was written before TPL announced the conservation of 10,000 acres at Stowe Mountain and Robinson Peak this morning.)

One impetus to these conservation accomplishments may have been the “green lining” in the current real estate downturn, which we have blogged on before, most recently here.

In York, for example, a coalition of land trusts raised more than $3 million and preserved the 151-acre Highland Farm, a tract of fields and forest habitat near the York River estuary and a pond that supplies drinking water to three communities.

The farm had long ago been identified as one of the last large undeveloped coastal tracts in the region. But when it was put on the auction block in 2003, a developer beat out conservationists and bought it, said Wolfe Tone, state director for the Trust for Public Land in Maine.

The developer submitted plans for 38 building lots on the property and already had permits to begin the first phase before agreeing to sell to conservationists.

“We got another run at it, and we turned it right around,” Tone said. “He was going to go ahead (and build) if we didn’t get it.”

In Maine’s North Woods, conservation successes have developed from coalition-building between conservationists,  forestry interests, and local residents; and a  story this morning in the Bangor Daily News highlights such coalition-building as key to possible federal funding for North Woods conservation. 

After months of discussion and several promising meetings with Obama administration officials, a working group is completing a pitch for federal funding for “landscape-scale” conservation in Maine’s North Woods that would also strengthen the state’s forest products industry.

Last summer during a visit to Maine, U.S. Interior Secretary Kenneth Salazar expressed interest in hearing suggestions about how the federal government could help Maine preserve large swaths of forestland.

But Salazar made clear that any proposal would need a broad base of support that includes landowners and industry.

The story suggests that federal conservation in the North Woods will probably not take the form of a big national park, such as has been proposed by advocates over the last few years. 

“At its heart, this is a proposal to maintain a sustainably managed forest landscape, which continues to produce wood products and protects ecological values, while maintaining and improving recreational opportunities,” reads a draft outline of the report.

What the Great Maine Forest Initiative is not proposing, coalition members and state officials insist, is a national park, a national forest or any other significant expansion of public lands in Maine.

Suggestions for another national park in Maine are “a no-starter with me,” Gov. John Baldacci said this week. “I am proud of Maine’s leadership and what we have been able to do on our own … We would be using federal dollars, and the attraction of the federal government is the opportunity to have conservation on a landscape scale.”

The proposal calls for working with landowners to protect land largely through conservation easements. Some “special places,” such as old-growth forests or areas with particular value from a recreational or ecological standpoint, could be purchased from willing property owners with the help of federal dollars.

The goal is “to protect anywhere from 500,000 to 2 million acres of working forests in the largest unfragmented forest east of the Mississippi River”  and may serve as a model for funding other working-forest conservation.

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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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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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Quest radio: California project highlights recession’s “green lining”

December 9, 2009

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?

Listen to the Quest story or view a Bruin Ranch slide show on KQED website

More on Bruin Ranch on TPL’s website

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A national park for Kansas?

December 2, 2009

Photo: Wikipedia Commons

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.

Read more at: The Kansas City Star and The Wichita Eagle

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Louv: “button parks” could connect people with nature

November 20, 2009

Richard Louv - Photo: Robert Burroughs

Writing on his blog, Field Notes from the Future, children-and-nature guru Richard Louv proposes “button parks” to provide access to close-to-home nature . 

“Pocket park” is the term for small parks created by governments or developers; button parks — well, people can sew those on themselves. . .

As neighborhoods work to preserve or create parcels of nearby nature, they could symbolically join these special places to similar ones throughout a city; such an effort could be a new way to build parkland across an urban region – a kind of decentral park.

The concept is especially apt for Carolina Thread Trail–a partnership effort to create a linked system of natural areas in the Carolinas, writes Louv, who recently had an opportunity to visit the region.  (TPL is a partner in the project.)

The reason that the Carolina Thread Trail is called a thread trail is not only because of the image that word evokes, but because of the Carolinas’ long dependence on the textile industries. . .

What if people had access to free tool kits which helped people create their own “button parks” connected to the “thread” trail? These button parks wouldn’t need to be literally connected to the trail, but would serve as small extensions of the trail throughout the region.

Read on at Field Notes from the Future

Read an interview with Richard Louv from TPL’s Land&People magazine

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Recession Provides Opportunities For Land Conservation

November 18, 2009

Gina-Marie Cheeseman writing in the triplepundit blog:

The housing market collapse presented land conservation trusts with the opportunity to purchase land slated for development. As a study by the Land Trust Alliance puts it, “land trusts are attractive buyers (to banks) because they don’t require further infrastructure investments.”

Land trusts all over the country are taking advantage of those opportunities. In Northern California, several land trusts acquired parcels this year. The Trust for Public Land bought chaparral-covered land for $4 million that was going to be bulldozed. The Peninsula Open Space trust paid $16 million in June for the 966 acre Rancho San Vicente, a former cattle ranch. The Ranch was slated to have 300 units and 16 large estates built.

The post goes on to quote several TPL staff members on the conservation opportunities provided by the recession. 

Of course, as our Land&People story on the topic pointed out, hard times also cut into  government funding and donations to conservation groups.  These are the challenges that accompany the opportunities. More on the topic, including an audio slideshow narrater by TPL’s Will Rogers can be found here.

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Fewer hikers may mean less support for conservation groups

October 27, 2009
me_graftonnotch_10032005_08

Photo Jerry and Marcy Monkman

At least that is the conclusion of research reported in a boston.com article yesterday. 

The researchers found that the amount of time one spent hiking or backpacking in nature correlated with a willingness more than a decade later to financially support any of four conservation organizations: the Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund, the Sierra Club or Environmental Defense. The typical backpacker gave $200 to $300 per year, after a 11 or 12 year lag.

Coupled with other studies showing a decrease in hiking and backpacking, this suggests a possible looming donation falloff for conservation groups, according to the article.  

(Of course, other trends suggest strong support for conservation across the nation–notably the dramatic surge in state and local conservation funding measures over the last decade. )

Read the post at boston.com

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The “green lining” nationwide

October 20, 2009

A spate of recent stories again highlight the “green lining” in the recession. This is the term conservationists are using to highlight their ability to compete for conservation-worthy properties that were priced out of reach as recently as last year.

A front page story in the San Francisco Chronicle describes how almost 600 acres of oak woodlands along California’s Yuba River–once slated for new homes–is now queued for prtection for the bargain price of $4m million after the development went bust.

In Tampa, the 160-acre former Georgetown Development — bought for $125 million in 2005 — has been sold for $34 million with the understanding that TPL will be able to pick up about hald the property for a new public waterfront park. According to the Tampa Tribune, at one time there were to be 1,200 homes here.

And the Hartford Current has a story on what it calls “The Green Recession in Connecticut,” discussing five ongoing projects.

On the other hand, the Sarasota Florida Herald-Tribune raises the alarm that Sarasota County’s much admired conservation program–which has protected more than 27,000 acres — is sputtering, because its coffers are filled by a a tax tied to home values.

This, alas, is the not-so-green side of the recession for conservationists. While land bargains are blooming, money can be harder to find.

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New report updates state of the outdoors

October 20, 2009

great_outdoorsIn 1962 and again in 1987, major reports drew attention to the national demand for recreation and available land and water resources.  Resources for the Future–an independent think tank–has now taken these reports as a model for a new one: The State of the Great Outdoors: America’s Parks, Public Lands, and Recreation Resources

Written by Margaret Walls, Sarah Darley, and Juha Sikamaki, the report was assembled in conjunction with the Outdoor Resources Review Group (ORRG), a private, bipartisan assemblage of public officials and recreation professionals that has conducted a review of priorities, challenges, and opportunities in managing the nation’s land and water resources. Senators Jeff Bingaman (D–NM) and Lamar Alexander (R–TN) served as honorary co-chairs of the group.

The 100-page report assesses the nation’s supply of outdoor resources, the demand for outdoor recreation, and the complex layout of public and private sector funding and financing of outdoor resources. From the conclusion:

In summary, the United States has seen significant changes in the past 25 years in its demand and supply of outdoor resources and funding for conservation, parks, and open space. With limited financial resources at the federal, state, and local government levels, it is essential that policymakers have good information at their disposal in order to make smart decisions about the allocation of those resources. Our research has provided some basic information, documented important changes that have taken place, and highlighted issues that loom large for the future. It has also illuminated the data and research gaps that need to be filled for a more complete understanding of outdoor resources supply and use.


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