Archive for the ‘Conservation Trends’ Category

Two Videos from the Connecticut Valley

September 30, 2010

Connecticut River at Pittsburg, NH - Photo: Jerry and Marcy Monkman

Yes, work on Land&People is finally winding down (thanks for asking) and I am beginning to pay more attention to the world outside my office.

Which is why I am able to tell you about the arrival of not one, but two videos from the Connecticut River Valley, a place dear to my heart. In 1946, my parents arrived in Amherst, Massachusetts—in the heart of that valley—driving a World War II weapons carrier converted for domestic use and bearing yours truly as a babe in arms. I would live in the valley off and on for 37 years and would visit regularly for decades after that.

So I always pay special attention to TPL’s work along the Connecticut River. Jerry Monkman, one of our favorite Land&People photographers and a friend of TPL, has crafted a lovely 15-minute video on the river and the work of several conservation groups, including TPL, to protect it.

For an ex-pat New Englander, looking at Jerry’s photos is the next best thing to going home. While the interviews with conservationists are interesting, the real treat is to just sit and immerse yourself in the photos. A warning, though: don’t tell yourself that you’re only going to view a few minutes of the piece and then get back to work. That is not a feasible plan—at least not in my experience.

Farmland, Northampton, Mass. - Photo: Richard Shephard

The second video comes from Northampton, Massachusetts, across the river from Amherst—the closest big town to our small town in the 1950s. We called it “‘Hamp,” and I was tickled to see that the city is sometimes still referred to that way in the local media. Northampton is home to Smith College and in the heart of a “five-college area” that includes Amherst, Mount Holyoke, and Hampshire colleges and the University of Massachusetts. Like many college towns, it has attracted an educated and progressive populace concerned with conservation and quality of life.

For about eight months, I have been following a complicated transaction in which TPL is acquiring two farms to make some of the land available for recreation and conservation and to preserve the best farmland for agriculture. Now a group of ‘Hamp residents has announced a fundraising effort to buy the agricultural land for a community farm. This story, in The Republican, a Springfield, Massachusetts newspaper, has the details.

Oh yes, the video. Well, this one is less than four minutes long, and its main job is to make a pitch for the funds. But if you are at all interested in community agriculture, then this one is also worth a look. The Northampton Community Farm is a truly ambitious effort—and one that makes me a little homesick. If we do a Land&People story about the project, I would almost have to go to go take a look, right?

Land&People is available for free here. The current issue will be in mailboxes in December, so sign up now.

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Large landscape “listening” in Montana

June 2, 2010

Swan Valley / Montana Legacy Project Photo: John Lambing

For the first “listening session” of President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors Initiative, Washington and local leaders gathered yesterday at the Rolling Stone Ranch in Montana to hear about the many cooperative conservation efforts to protect the Crown of the Continent ecosystem.

Interesting context for this meeting can be found in yesterday’s Billings Gazette, in a piece by Rick Graetz, a geography professor at the University of Montana and co-director of the university’s Crown of the Continent Initiative.

In 1886, James Willard Schultz and George Bird Grinnell traveled through what is now present-day Glacier National Park. Together, they trekked from St. Mary’s Lake into the Swiftcurrent region and eventually clambered up the famous glacier that now bears Grinnell’s name.

Grinnell was so enchanted with the sweep of the land that he would return again and again for the next 41 years, all the while promoting protection of the area he termed the “Crown of the Continent.” Exactly 100 years ago last month, his efforts helped create Glacier National Park.

Today, the original vision behind Grinnell’s “Crown” has been expanded to include a vastly important region that extends beyond the confines of Glacier. And every year, that vision grows stronger and more vivid thanks to the conservation work of Montanans from all walks of life.

Today’s coverage of the meeting includes an AP story and an informative piece in the Missoulian that tries to make clear why the administration chose this region to kick-off its effort to highlight large-landscape, cooperative conservation.

With so many subjects and so many speakers, it was a little unclear what the whole gathering was about. But as the spring rainshowers came and went, it became apparent the sheer size of Montana’s recent land management efforts was a learning opportunity for the rest of the nation.

“There’s a growing awareness that it’s going to take local leadership and vision like this to drive progress,” [Secretary of Agriculture Tom] Vilsack said. “Maybe not to drive but to facilitate. We’re seeing it in the Everglades in Florida and in the Maine forestlands and in Arizona there’s some of this happening. But it may not be as mature as it’s happening here. You’ve institutionalized the process here.”

Some projects, like the Blackfoot Challenge or the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act, have been gestating in local communities for decades. Others, like the Montana Legacy Project’s buyout of Plum Creek Timber Co. lands, came together in a matter of years. All together, they involve hundreds of thousands of acres coming under new management strategies designed to protect special places and preserve local jobs and communities.

TPL has been an active player in this work, most recently as a partner with The Nature Conservancy in the Montana Legacy Project to protect 310,000 acres within the 10 million acres Crown of the Continent ecosystem.

A New Report

In a related matter, the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy has released a policy report, “Large Landscape Conservation.”

In response to increasing activity at the large landscape scale, leaders from the public, private, and nongovernmental sectors participated in two national policy dialogues and many other informal discussions in 2009. Convened by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy and the Center for Natural Resources and Environmental Policy at The University of Montana, the intent of the dialogues was to synthesize what we know about large landscape conservation and to identify the most important needs as we move forward.

There is general agreement that the promise of large landscape conservation is its focus on land and water problems at an appropriate geographic scale, regardless of political and jurisdictional boundaries. While it is hard to define precisely what constitutes a large landscape conservation effort, there is a growing consensus that such efforts are multijurisdictional, multipurpose, and multistakeholder, and they operate at various geographic scales using a variety of governance arrangements.

I haven’t had a chance to review the report as yet, but the Lincoln Institute’s materials are always meaty and useful.

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Bits and bytes for a Monday morning

May 10, 2010

Boosting self esteem - Photo: Darcy Kiefel

Five minutes of green can boost self esteem
Thanks to TPL volunteer extraordinaire Tom Reeve for alerting us to a news article from Reuters about the psychological benefits of parks. TPL collects and publishes information on the benefits of parks and open space, and we will file this one under “benefits, health, mental”.

Researchers from the University of Essex found that as little as five minutes of a “green activity” such as walking, gardening, cycling or farming can boost mood and self esteem . . .

Many studies have shown that outdoor exercise can reduce the risk of mental illness and improve a sense of well-being, but Jules Pretty and Jo Barton, who led this study, said that until now no one knew how much time needed to be spent on green exercise for the benefits to show.

Tell the president (yes, that one) your conservation ideas
In the wake of President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors Conference of April 16, the USDA has posted an online application for sharing conservation ideas in three broad areas: reconnecting with the great outdoors, private land conservation, and public land conservation. Anybody can read and rate the ideas. To comment or post, you will need a free account (click “register” at the top of the page.) An interesting experiment in using technology to further policy dialog.

The Big Slick and the Big Easy
Not sure how long The Wall Street Journal keeps content online for non-subscribers, but this opinion piece by freelancer Douglas McCollam contains some wonderful writing and interesting observations on what others are calling the “Gulf oil spill,”  but which McCollom says should really be characterized as “an erupting, underwater oil volcano.”

Everyone is distressed by the crisis in the Gulf–at TPL we have been watching in horror as the oil drifts closer to islands and marshes we have helped to protect. From McCollom’s piece:

. . . while revenue from offshore drilling has helped fill Louisiana’s coffers, it has also inflicted severe environmental damage. As far back as the 1950s, and particularly during the 1970s and ’80s, the state’s fragile wetlands were carved up to give oil companies easier ingress and egress for exploration. Today that ecosystem lies in tatters, and the southeastern coast of the state is receding at a rate of 25-35 square miles a year with no apparent means to halt the advancing sea.

Before the spill (or rather, volcano), TPL and other conservation groups were working to conserve and restore some of these wetlands. That need will only grow more intense. But first they need to stop the gusher.  Thanks to Larry Schmidt, TPL’s man in New Orleans, for forwarding the article.

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Conservation and historic preservation

April 23, 2010

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


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

April 14, 2010


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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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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Opinion: The future of forests depends on forestry

January 12, 2010

Dartmouth College Forest, NH - Photo: Jerry and Marcy Monkman

For a while I have been meaning to reference this essay in Northern Woodlands magazine, a publication of the Center for Northern Woodlands Education. The piece is both informative and eloquent. In the magazine, it is titled “The Long View” — not because it looks ahead (which it does) but because it was written by Stephen Long, one of the magazine’s founders.

Every few years, I’m treated to a recurring dream, an archetypal dream that I’ve heard others describe as well. In it, I have just moved into a new house, and as I settle into my new place, I walk into a room and see a door I don’t remember. When I go through the door, I see a whole new room. Oh my god, I say to myself, I didn’t even know I had that, what incredibly good fortune. It gets even better – I keep going and I discover all sorts of new rooms. Sometimes there’s a hayloft in a barn, sometimes a roomy attic. It’s a wondrous dream, and I wake up full of a sense of possibility.

In the first few centuries that Europeans explored and settled North America, a dream like this pervaded the collective – and then national – consciousness. The pioneers kept going west, and they kept finding more: more forests full of timber and fuel, more rivers teeming with fish, more food, more goods in a land of plenty. Possibilities were limitless. This continent was a gold mine, a cornucopia, a land of infinite opportunity.

The piece goes on to extol the many benefits of forests and then describe the economic problems faced by private forest owners and how these lead inexorably to forest fragmentation.

It’s a time-honored rural tradition to sell off a building lot when the going gets tough, because land is often a person’s only savings account. The trend toward smaller parcel size has seemed inexorable as families or individuals sell or bequeath parts of their holdings when life circumstances change: four siblings inherit the family farm and divide the land, or a daughter is given a 10-acre lot so she and her new husband can build a house.

This ordinary rate of parcelization, however, will progress geometrically if we all lose the opportunity to sell timber. Parcelization is a cause, and fragmentation is the effect. As parcels are developed, driveways and dwellings fragment the natural system. All of the ecosystem services that accrue in an intact forest are compromised in a fragmented landscape that becomes not rural but suburban. The process would also quicken the erosion of the culture and backwoods ethos that is cherished by those born here and has been a drawing card for many who’ve moved here.

While the magazine covers the Northeast, the problems Long mentions are certainly not limited to that region.

Long himself does not discuss working forest easements as a possible solution to the economic problems of forest owners–although content in earlier issues of the magazine does give voice to this approach.

Working forest easements prevent development, reimburse land owners for lost development value,  and allow sustainable forestry to continue.  TPL most recently used a working forest easement to protect 3,363 acres at Stowe Mountain in Maine.

Read Long’s essay here — and if you have any interest in forests, spend some time looking through past issues of Northern Woodlands.  Lots of content online.

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Shrinking religious orders take up land conservation

January 8, 2010

Sister of Saint John the Baptist convent, Mendham, NJ - Photo Marni Horwitz

A story carried in several newspapers including the Washington Post  highlights a growing conservation trend.  As their members age and their goals change, religious orders and organizations face hard choices about what to do with their lands and often turn to conservation. 

The piece highlights the Religious Lands Conservancy — a  Massachusetts organization that “has been instrumental in placing hundreds of acres owned by religious communities into conservation” — and Sister Chris Loughlin of the Dominican sisters of Plainville, Mass., an organizer of the conservancy. 

With a faith-based mission to protect the Earth, Loughlin has approached congregations throughout the Northeast to broach the spiritual value of conservation. 

It’s not just a feel-good spiritual mission. During the past 40 years, the number of Catholic nuns has plummeted 66 percent, and the number of Catholic brothers by 60 percent. The financial strain of dwindling membership has resulted in lucrative — and often attractive — offers to sell the orders’ land to developers. 

In the mid-1970s, the sisters in Plainville confronted an increasingly familiar situation: Fewer students were enrolling in their parochial school, and shrinking numbers of sisters meant having to hire (and pay) lay teachers. 

In a scenario faced by many Catholic orders, the cash-strapped sisters began to sell off pieces of property to help pay for the care of elderly members. In similar situations, land that was once eyed for a cemetery was split into subdivisions, and shuttered churches have been converted to condominiums. 

The trend has actually been going on from some time.  A few years ago I went looking for examples of TPL’s work with religious orders and came up with a dozen or so from across the East and Midwest, including projects to protect a baseball field in Chicago,  a Presbyterian church camp in Minnesota, and the last surviving Shaker village.  

Among religious groups that have chosen a conservation solution are the Sisters of Saint John the Baptist in Mendham, New Jersey.  Land around much of their convent, pictured above, is now public watershed, habitat, and recreation land.  

As the Washington Post piece makes clear, while such transactions may in part be propelled by necessity, conservation by religious orders often is motivated by a deeply felt religious purpose. 

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