Why I've been runningBy: Amos S. Eno
Posted on:09/04/2007 Updated:11/30/2017
I have worked in conservation for over 35 years, and my career path, which might be more appropriately dubbed the “careening” path of a total maverick
I have worked in conservation for over 35 years, and my career path, which might be more appropriately dubbed the “careening” path of a total maverick, has taught me a number of valuable lessons. My background and the evolution of my thinking, as I have fumbled toward the elusive ecstasy of environmental solutions, underpin everything we are doing with PLN
and our growing portfolio of satellite websites
I graduated from college in 1972 with a history degree, minor in art and two years specializing in the political evolution of African American leaders. That might seem an unlikely springboard for a career in conservation, but it did get me to fall off the diving board into the frothy bath of national environmental policy. You see my immersion into black politics taught me that advocacy without equal portions of strategic economic empowerment, and responsible political engagement (as Ed Brooke in MA, and Leonard S. Coleman in NJ) is a popped balloon. This is a lesson (ASE lesson #1) the environmental movement has yet to learn.
I grew up as an inveterate birdwatcher, thanks to my Dad. My first Roger Tory Peterson Field Guide dates to 1958. When I was sent off to summer camp I memorized the silhouettes and can still identify most perching birds driving at 85 mph, and could recognize all the birds resident in the northeast. During my school years my Dad was on the national board of the National Audubon Society
when Elvis Stahr was President and I occasionally got to accompany him to board meetings and associated field trips. These early forays and school vacation trips to birding areas surrounding our home in Princeton, NJ (Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, Brigantine NWR, Cape May, Cork Screw Swamp FL, Olympic NP, WA), constituted my introduction to critters winged and otherwise and to conservation issues.
After college, I had no idea what to do and the embarrassment of graduating cum laude, but getting mid 500s on my law and business boards did not make the prospect of graduate school a bed of roses. So on a serendipitous door opening I signed on as a biological intern for Chitwan Park, Nepal and later work in East Africa. The Chitwan sits in Nepal’s terai, or lowlands and I worked under UNDP’s Frank Poppleton assisting on bird surveys, tiger and Indian rhino research. The interplay between the park and surrounding people residing on the protected area’s periphery was a source of constant friction, and provided my first glimpse of the inequities of creating protected wildlife sanctuaries without integrating the surrounding humanscape as part of the conservation equation. Before departing Nepal, I did the first proposed conservation plan for Lang Tang valley now a national park bordering Tibet. Thence I peregrinated to East Africa where I was introduced to David Western (WCS) who pioneered policies to involve, somewhat belatedly, local people, in this case Maasai (see his book IN THE DUST OF KILIMANJARO
), in both the management and as fiscal recipients of tourist revenue in national parks such as Kenya’s Amboseli NP. Western demonstrated that the colonial and post colonial policy of gazetting protected wildlife sanctuaries and national parks on the backs of local residents, even if they were “just pastoralists”, was doomed in the long run if local people were not integrated from the ground up in the design , management and enforcement of protected areas (ASE lesson #2
By year end it was time to find a real job so I headed to Washington, feeling a little like Davey Crockett come up out of the back woods. Another fortuitous door opening and to my surprise, I landed a job in the Secretary’s office, Department of Interior with Assistant Secretary Nat Reed who oversaw the National Park Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service and the then Bureau of Outdoor Recreation which Jim Watt later buried. At that time Rog Morton was Secretary (the only easterner to hold the job) and he assembled a leadership team (John Whittaker, Royston Hughes, Jim Lyons, Nat Reed, Jack Horton) that has never been equaled since. Working at Interior in the early 70s with Russ Train and Bill Ruckelshaus also in wings of the Administration, was akin to being with Dean Acheson at State post WWII; you were “PRESENT AT CREATION’ in terms of the development of national environmental policies. It was an era of legislative and policy ferment: passage of the Endangered Species Act (1973), removal of 1080, steel shot, PCBs and the establishment of more parks and wildlife refuges than heretofore, and laying the groundwork for all the Alaskan conservation lands (passed under Pres. Carter). However the most important lessons I learned were at the knees of a career bureaucrat in the Secretary’s office named Cleo Layton (hired by Harold Ickes in 1934). Cleo taught me that a bureaucracy, like an army moves on its stomach, so to effectively control an agency you have to manage the budget and personnel shrewdly (ASE lesson#3), which, sadly has never occurred at Interior post the Morton team’s tenure.
With the change in administrations, I left Washington for graduate school to get a rudimentary education in wildlife management, natural resources and public policy. I landed at Cornell for a master’s program and got an eye opening exposure to academia. Oh My!! Our courses involved reading Aldo Leopold, of course, and all sorts of antiquated wildlife management tomes which were about as far removed from the realities of current day environmental policy formation and legislative combat that I had experienced in DC, as Davey Crockett’s Alamo. I did two years course work in 9 months, ran my first two marathons- to satisfy a bet and for sanity from academes- and skedaddled.
By this time environmental seminars, TV enviro documentaries and National Geographic Specials portraying wildlife biologists (a la Jane Goodall) and their pet critters were getting under my skin, because I was gaining the sense that conservation was more dependent on the people who lived in a given landscape than the biology of the specific animals under perennial study. I decided to go see for myself and took out a loan and charted a trip around the world. I started in East Africa and looked in on David Western again, then looked at the elephant/ivory protagonists Ian Parker and Douglas Hamilton, darted leopards with Patrick Hamilton and thumbed my way by car, aircraft and train through Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Malawi , South Africa, Namibia. Most of what I saw confirmed my emergent thoughts that the current emphasis on wildlife biology to dictate the parameters of natural resource conservation was misplaced.
In 1977 in South Africa I met Russel Friedman, then with the Vulture Study Group (who I later brought to the states to assist the California Condor Recovery Program
), who later founded Wilderness Safaris
(the best eco-tourism company in the world) and the Wilderness Safaris Wildlife Trust
which is the recipient of today’s RFF Africa grants. My solo carpet ride took me through the Seychelles, Sri Lanka, Hong Kong/Macao, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Peru, Paraguay, Brazil, and Trinidad when 10 months of dysentery and malaria finally sent me home to medicinal rehab. Looking back on the year, conservation seemed somehow disjunctive everywhere I looked, but at the time I couldn’t put my finger on a macro world view that encapsulated the disjointedness I had witnessed. The closest I came was writing a long article for AUDUBON that scaldingly criticized most of the patron saints of conservation then holding forth in east Africa, which not surprisingly Audubon declined to publish. This was the first of many run-ins I had with the environmental movement’s 11th
Commandment (Thou shall not criticize your fellow enviros). The same affliction is periodically ascribed to republicans, of course, by peers of that political affinity.
On my return stateside some yet unexplained yearning/necessity led me, lemming–like, to seek a job in the bowels of the federal wildlife bureaucracy at the Department of Interior. I migrated to the Office of Endangered Species (OES), because the Chief of OES was John Spinks, a former compatriot from the office of Assistant Secretary Nat Reed. Endangered species management was in its infancy in those days (1978-1981), finding its sea legs programmatically within the parent agency (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, hereafter FWS) and in terms of both listing and attempting to recover its progeny species. My first assignments involved putting the lessons and contacts of my international travels to good use as both leopards (as common as house cats throughout Africa), and large kangaroos (red and gray-with millions thriving in the outback) were proposed as endangered species by environmental protagonists. After a year of pushing paper we forewent listing and I was given the biggest animal basket case in existence, barely: the California condor. In those days most of our critical endangered species basket cases were given last rites by FWS Research center at Patuxent, Maryland which ministered bedside remedies less than successfully to these terminal wildlife cases, including whooping cranes, peregrine falcons and California condors.
Early on I learned, in part through the good offices of George W. Archibald (see The Crane Foundation
) that Patuxent did not have a monopoly on restorative strategies, and truth be known, was more apt to be an impediment to recovery, and that the private sector offered more salutary capabilities. In fact, as the next two decades were to prove irrefutably, the private sector proved vastly superior in bringing recovery to the three species named above (ASE lesson #4
). With the California condor we put together a partnership with the National Audubon Society (John Ogden lead scientist) for the field recovery program and with the San Diego and Los Angeles zoos, and later the Peregrine Fund for captive breeding and release programs and we brought Russel Friedman’s Vulture Study Group from Africa to advise field handling techniques. Suffice it to say that after a lot of bumps in the road (i.e. condor kills) we have condors again soaring the azure skies above the Tehachapi Mountains and elsewhere in California and elsewhere in the Southwest today.
By 1981 a new gunslinger came to Washington town, as Jim Watt became President Reagan’s first appointed Secretary of Interior. It did not take a genius at that point to determine that the Office of Endangered Species was not going to be the most favored office workplace in Interior’s hallowed, and soon to be hollowed, halls. I knew Watt well as he was a bureau director under my boss Nat Reed, so I did not fancy working at Interior through his watch. With that prospect I moved to the Washington office of the National Audubon Society (1981-86) to try to resurrect a wildlife and natural resource office proficiency worthy of the name. I shouldn’t have bothered, but then again for some reason I seemed to consistently align my career paths to pushing rocks uphill.
Audubon went from one of the preeminent conservation organizations under the competent, politically and fiscally shrewd leadership of Elvis Stahr to a successive pair of environmental demagogues who succeeded in torpedoing the finest nature magazine in America (AUDUBON), shrinking one of the healthiest philanthropic endowments to a pittance, and committing repeated acts of managerial and political seppuku. Most importantly, the successors undermined Audubon’s brand and leadership position by giving its traditional program focus-birds, wildlife and natural resource conservation- short shrift, as they expanded Audubon’s focus to attacking nuclear power, advocating agricultural reform, population control, and pollution control. By this time it was clear that the environmental movement was fracturing into many niche markets with Darwinian precision. This proliferation of niche markets were defined by subject (American Rivers), species (Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Ducks or Quail or Turkey Unlimited), or geographic region (Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Yellowstone Coalition). Having a well defined niche became the key to success of many environmental NGOs competing for money and attention in an increasingly crowded marketplace. Meanwhile the big shots such as Audubon foundered.
At Audubon I embarked on an almost two decade crusade to make federal natural resource programs more effective, successful and market friendly. The first step in this stairway -that as you shall see did not get me to any heavenly plateau of accomplishment- was to launch a serial book publishing effort, the AUDUBON WILDLIFE REPORTS. These 1000 page tomes sought to elucidate the major federal agency (US Fish and Wildlife Service, US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Marine Fisheries Service) natural resource programs and species and habitat responsibilities. Part of this endeavor harked back to my Cornell experience wherein there was no current or sophisticated literature on contemporary government natural resource programs, and part of it was a re-branding exercise for Audubon.
My next three efforts bore more fruit in the long run: the first was to get the Department of Interior to create the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee
(IGBC) to oversee grizzly recovery. At the time the grizz was drowning in excessive mortality and a tub of state/ federal bureaucratic squabbles. You see the bear unfortunately inhabited the mostly mountain terrain in 4 states (WA, ID, MT, WY), and the jurisdictions of 4 federal agencies (FWS, NPS, USFS, BLM) which were more intent on marking territory and peeing on each others legs than setting the grizz on a path to recovery. The IGBC was a creation of whole cloth, and by God within the first year it started to work effectively, and today and for most of the past decade grizzlies in the Yellowstone ecosystem have surpassed all the population parameters established for them, their ranges have expanded quite significantly, and they can be said to have substantially recovered in part of the northern Rockies (ASE lesson #5:
cooperation can even be made to work at level of state/federal interaction). Audubon also set up a reward program to staunch grizzly shootings and successfully assisted law enforcement programs.
Fast forward to the summer of August 2005, at the White House Conference on Cooperative Conservation
Secretary of Interior Gail Norton headlined a movie on successful cooperative efforts that highlighted the success stories of both California condor and Grizzly recovery. Good ‘nuff, but the sad part was that in the audience of 3000 plus people in attendance, there was virtually no one who could say why these two programs worked effectively or how to replicate them. So much for institutional memory and progress in the next millennium.
The second effort has nothing to do with private land, but is the essence of creating something sustainable from whole cloth within the beltway: the establishment of the National Wildlife Forensic Lab
in Ashland, Oregon. By the mid 1980s virtually all FWS wildlife prosecutions domestically and involving international trade in animals were subject to easy court challenge based on the government’s inability to prove evidence or substantiate the identity of wildlife products. Part of this story is recounted in former FWS Special Agent Terry Grosz’s
book DEFENDING OUR WILDLIFE HERITAGE
, chapter 7: “Ashes to Ashland”, which chronicles our role in out-maneuvering five years of bureaucratic impedimenta. Terry never had insight to the larger aspects of the story, securing multiple years of Congressional funding to construct and operate the lab, and getting the Reagan administration politicos at Interior and Justice on board.
Today the lab is a best in the world facility that combines expertise right out of Ian Fleming’s character Professor Q and all his James Bondian gadgets, and analysis capabilities surpassing the best of the FBI. The story on Congressional funding is a tale for another telling, but my patron saints were Congressman Silvio Conte, and Sid Yates of the House Appropriations Committee. Earmarks are out of fashion today, but during the 80s and 90s many new conservation programs were created from scratch by taking a worthy concept or prototype and mainlining funding through Appropriation bills even with executive branch opposition (ASE lesson #6).
My final effort while at Audubon, inadvertently provided my exit strategy a year in the future unbeknownst to me, involved the drafting of legislation to create the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation
(NFWF). This occurred in 1984 in a spontaneous end of Congressional session effort inspiringly led by Jeff Curtiss of House Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee, Martha Pope from Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, myself, Bob Davison of National Wildlife Federation and Michael Bean of Environmental Defense. Over a six pack or two (provided by Jeff) one afternoon we drafted a law to create the foundation as an instrument to bring private sector resources to assist the mission of FWS and related federal natural resource agencies. The bill was quickly passed, and a year later a board appointed by the Secretary of Interior and an Executive Director hired. Even before taking the job the new E/D came to me for advice on how to set up and run the foundation. I remember asking him if he “was willing to take risks?” Chip was rather risk averse (actually he took a huge risk in hiring me), but I wasn’t and that summer during a month long trip back to Africa with my wife I decided on exiting Audubon come hell or high water. On my return I attended a board of Director’s meeting and told President Berle off in front of the full board and went out the door, literally. Pink slip followed. Changing planes at the airport on my way home I got a call from Chip saying come to work for the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.
Over the next decade and a half (1986-1999) NFWF became the platform for building a host of innovative conservation programs and the alchemist for bringing private landowners and private sector corporations into innovative conservation efforts at unprecedented levels. We began by creating two new pathways through the woods to borrow Robert Frosts’ metaphor of roads not taken before in Washington.
First, we took a huge planning tome from Interior’s bureaucracy called the North American Waterfowl Management Plan (NAWMP- my apologies but everything in government has acronyms) and turned it into an actionable agenda with funding. Since the 1950s waterfowl populations across the continental US had been plummeting. For a decade prior to 1986, U.S. and Canadian counterparts had been incubating an aggressive plan to conserve wetland habitat which was finally approved by Secretary of Interior Hodel and his Canadian counterpart, and in due course, as predictable in bureaucracy, the plan found itself consigned to a shelf for lack of funding and initiative. NFWF took on the plan’s implementation as its first multi-year project and brought in lead corporate funders (Dow Chemical), designed the pathway for US grants to fund wetland habitats in Canada (where most ducks breed), brought on state agency partners under the lead of Gary Myers of Tennessee and James Timmerman of South Carolina. We brought in The Nature Conservancy and Ducks Unlimited as the first of a broadening array of national funding partners and created the concept of “joint ventures” for pooling funds for designated geographic targets for conservation funding. Many of the original grants involved working cooperatively with private landowners on wetland protection (ASElesson #7) in agricultural areas.
After several years of funding projects through the foundation we took our prototypes to Congress and passed the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA, 1989) which institutionalized our grant making through the FWS into an annual program that has grown past $50 million per annum. Second, in 1991, with our federal partners the US Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, we launched a new program called Bring Back the Natives
(BBN) to restore fisheries and riparian habitats across the western U.S. In western states the Forest Service tends to own the mountain country, BLM the lower elevations, and critically private landowners own most of the rivers, streams and riparian areas. Throughout the late 70s and 80s I had watched with increasing distaste as a number of environmental organizations such as NRDC waged a concerted legal battle against ranchers grazing on public lands. The increased costs of litigation and political pressures forced many ranchers out of business and meanwhile the mountain valleys became condominiumized by ski resorts, ranchettes and multi season developments. We proved with our BBN grants that ranchers were willing to voluntarily restore riparian areas and stream banks (ASE lesson #8
Our first grants were on the Mary’s River north of Winnemucca, NV, high cowboy country, and the restoration projects worked like a charm. Cut-throat trout returned and thrived, in 3 years breeding birds increased 300% (on San Pedro river AZ), and 4 legged wildlife benefited enormously. Watching the success of these projects helped me to turn the corner from watching eastern enviro groups sue ranchers and in process impregnate our prettiest western valleys with development, to developing a broader suite of programs and projects to work with private landowners.
In 1992 we made the then largest challenge grant in NFWF history to fund Texas Parks and Wildlife
Departments’ statewide Private Lands Enhancement Program. Texas is 97% privately owned so our rationale was to make Texas an incubator for innovative private land conservation projects. By 1994 we had a portfolio of wetlands and “private lands” grants. In 1995 we made another private lands grant to Texas Parks and Wildlife, and in 1996 gave our Chuck Yeager award to their director, Andrew Sansom, and Chair, Perry Bass. In the early 90s we also started seeding grants to two initiatives for the high plains and Rocky Mountain land owners: Seeking Common Ground
to facilitate coordination and partnership projects between ranchers and big game organizations (such as Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation). This umbrella grant supported compatible grazing and wildlife management projects and was kicked off with Nevada Cattleman. Pulling Together
was another umbrella grant program which supported rangeland projects designed to control invasive plants and noxious weeds (like yellow star thistle).
In 1996 I underwent a full scale Paulian conversion on the road to Damascus. I remember the specific moment in time. I was stuck in the Chicago airport awaiting a connection to fly to San Antonio to receive a national award from the Nature Conservancy. I’m not sure what triggered the onset of revising my mental view 180 degrees, perhaps it was the cumulative impact of two decades tilting at federal natural resource agency windmills with Sancho Panza like intensity, perhaps it was looking out the window at 30,000 feet at the developing metroplexes of the west and the Aspenization of so many once fertile mountain valleys. As I boarded the flight I felt the overwhelming sensation that we, and by that I meant an all embracing conservation “we-ness” to include federal and state agencies, and national and local conservation groups, were losing the frontlines to development across the country sea to shining sea and were not responding to the calls of the marketplace (ASE lesson #9).
By the time I returned to my office I was determined to reorient NFWF to making private land grants not just a priority but thepriority
portfolio. Fortunately, I was blessed with a foundation Chair, Maggie Bryant, who was not only a most extraordinary woman, but also shared my thinking and determination to focus on private land conservation. Maggie pioneered using conservation easements to preserve open space and agricultural land around Middleburg, VA and north of Vicksburg, MS. Over the next several years we made grants to create Agricultural Land Trusts in California
, we supported the Malpai Borderlands Group
in AZ/NM with a succession of grants, we underwrote publications (Beyond the Rangeland Conflict by Dan Dagget
) and supported Holistic Resource Management among many other grants. By the end of 1999 the foundation had made over 430 grants totaling $85 million (with a “m” for money) for private land projects. In the fall of 1999 at our board meeting we made private land conservation the number one grant priority at NFWF, but then I was out the door.
In 2000 at the beginning of the New Year I incorporated the Resources First Foundation
(RFF) to “provide conservation education tools and solutions to promote conservation and restoration activities for fish, wildlife and other natural resources primarily on privately owned lands across the United States and in Southern Africa. Today in the U.S. approximately 61% of the nation’s landscape and therefore the vast majority of our nations’ habitat for fish and wildlife resources, reside on privately owned lands. The vast majority of our public and philanthropic financial resources are focused on public land conservation, ignoring the largest segment of the market needing conservation assistance and tutelage.”
From 2000-2005, when I wasn’t working on building conservation internet sites, I worked for the New England Forestry Foundation
to successfully complete the two largest conservation easements in the United States in the back woods of Maine. Maine, like Texas, is 97% privately owned and I have utilized the state as an incubator for innovative private land conservation projects. The 762,000 acre Pingree Project
and the 342,000 acre Downeast Lakes Forestry Partnership
project, both designed by Keith Ross
, fit the bill. Downeast was the inaugural project for Wal-Mart’s Acres For America
program launched in April ’05. The combined acreage for these two projects in Maine is more than 1.1 million acres
, and the lands remain in private ownership
and productive forestry.
In January 2000 I was asked to speak to the Section of Taxation and Real Estate at the Annual Conference of the American Bar Association. My presentation stated unequivocally:
“There are two central questions before the American people as we begin a new century and a new millennium. First, looking backward with an eye towards historical experience and fairly obvious failure: What is the role of the federal government in conservation and the perpetuation of our natural resource capital? For a century, we have experienced an expansive accumulation of rights, power, and capital bestowed upon federal agencies, and secondarily to state agencies. Simultaneously private landowners and corporations have been subjected to an accumulation of regulatory burdens and infringements, often disenfranchising landowners and providing disincentives for innovative conservation initiatives.
Basically, from Teddy Roosevelt to Earthday to Al Gore, every major environment initiative environment initiative has been about empowering federal and state governments at the expense of private landowners. This equation is upside-down, patently ineffective, and the cause of great polarization and anguish in our society.
Meanwhile during the past thirty years the private sector- from individual and family landowners to the largest private and public corporations- have absorbed a conservation ethic, that has been inculcated over time with increasing and compounded intensity- to the point that today a majority of people wish to do right by conservation; wish to assume a mantel of responsibility and commensurate potential for action, which heretofore has been reserved solely to the federal government and anointed environmental organizations.
Conservation for the past century has been dominated by the federal government. Today most federal agencies (NPS, FWS, BLM, USDA-FS) are struggling to afford and manage their existing infrastructures. Many conservation lands, including the “jewels of the realm,” our National Parks, have become islands surrounded by seas of second home and commercial development. Our National Wildlife Refuges in isolate, surrounded by developed lands, are incapable of preserving their trust species.
Believe it not, for almost any environmentally sensitive category designed today, at the dawn of the new millennium; endangered species, forests, wetlands, riparian corridors, over 70 percent of these vital natural resource categories remain in the hands of private landowners, and are sustained by the invested capital of private landowners. And demographics are pushing against your tax attorney doors. For example, 2.5 million individual forest owners were 65 years and older in 1994 and hold 92.6 million acres- 25% of all privately held forest lands in the U.S. Another 2 million owners were estimated to be 55-64 years old, controlling an additional 54 million acres.
So what does this mean for Real Estate attorneys? Simply it means you are on the verge of what the Internet techies call a disruptive technology, a whole new industry. Conservation of the past century has been dominated by federal government fee title acquisition and fee acquisition by surrogate environmental organizations. Conservation in this century will be dominated by the private sector and private landowners and the principal mechanism will be the conservation easement. Easements will be the principal and the most important tool in the conservation tool box this century.”
WHY? Here we are back to why have we built PLN and CTC and our growing portfolio of landowner assistance web-based tools. My speech continues to provide the compelling reasons why we should focus on private landowners:
- “First, because domestic discretionary spending is declining at 10% per annum, so federal funding for acquisition programs is declining (still true in 2007). Even if a new or permanent funding source is legislated (not likely), it is still not equal to the momentousness of the task at hand.
- Second, while we have a proud tradition of public agencies saving and protecting rare, endangered, ecologically diverse and historic or archeologically significant lands, at bottom, public lands are jurisdictional islands. Without reaching beyond property lines-which fish and wildlife and even plants ignore-public agencies cannot adequately protect land, air, water and the critters that depend on this real estate. The future of our nation’s biodiversity rests firmly on the shoulders of farmers, ranchers and private landowners, their estate and trust planning, and their ability to retain ownership.
- Third, government cannot keep up with the loss of open spaces. Americans doubled the development of existing farmland, forests and other open spaces during the 1990s. Between ‘82 and ‘92 the development rate was 1.4million acres/year. Between 1992-1997, 16 million acres of land were converted to development-at a rate of 3.2 million acres per year (leading loss states: California, Florida, Georgia, Arizona, Washington).
- Keeping farm and ranch land productive is the only economically viable avenue to avoid sensitive land fragmentation, development and sprawl. Look at Colorado’s high mountain valleys-what was beautiful ranchland in the 1970s is today chock a block housing and condos. Contra Costa County, California, has one ranch remaining. Farmers and ranchers today can not afford to pass their landed estate to their children, without tax planning and conservation easements to reduce escalating values of development driven land prices.
- As the number of farms and ranches dwindle, we are losing many of our most knowledgeable, practical land managers and stewards. There are only 4.7 million land owners of any size and they husband 70% of our nations’ wetlands and 75% of our endangered species habitats.”
That in a nutshell pretty well describes why we built PLN and our associated websites. In early 2000 we did a business plan for a commercial website to be called: Don’t Tread OnMe.com, but for the life of me I could not figure how to commercialize the site without creating yet another barrier to entry for landowners who were already traumatized by government bureaucrats at all levels and environmentalists swarming at the door. So we went the non-profit route through RFF and built PLN as our core domestic product. Besides this was 2000/2001 when dot-coms were crashing all around us. It still was and is a disruptive concept. During the same time frame The Nature Conservancy was inking its “Conservation by Design” business strategy building conservation based on ecological inventories and bio-centric drivers. I have always had trouble with this approach because ultimately it is people, landowners, not critter presence and biologists, who are going to determine the future of any given landscape. A recent TV ad (by Dow Chemical Co.) captures the future of conservation in my minds eye. It is: “Hu, the human element, is the element of change.”
So PLN is designed to serve and support and work with people, the folks who own and live on their lands. It is that simple. The question of how you solve a problem with such a dispersed market as millions of landowners across 50 states, each of whom is individualistic, idiosyncratic, fiercely independent and each with unique problems and goals is solved by the internet. The internet allows us to post service providers, government programs for assistance, attorneys and tax advisors, and a slough of consultants. Many people have tried to address this suite of problems but most programs address single landowners on a case by case basis, and most purveyors use a cookie cutter conservation approach. Addressing landowners on a case by case basis is the equivalent to cutting a 5 acre lawn one blade of grass at a time. It does not take you to scale to address the full dimension of the problem nor does it provide the full menu of solutions offered in the marketplace. The internet allows us to address these multiple issues for a diverse landowner market and bring solutions to scale for the first time, and allowing landowners to retain the right to choose their service providers and programs for support at will.
If you have comments, please pass them along.
re: Why I've been runningBy: Gregg Elliott on: 09/12/2007
Amos, as always I appreciate your self-deprecating sense of humor, and although I already knew a lot of that story, it was fun reading it again. I did want to make one comment about the biocentric approach. I couldn't agree more that it is humans--what we do and do not do--that ultimately will dictate what happens on the land and in the sea. But from the standpoint of an educator, let's not throw out the baby with the bathwater! It is the feathered jewels, the cascading waterfalls, and the creepy crawlies that fascinate people (biophilia, if you will) and inspire them to act in support of conservation. The ag bill and conservation easements are essential, but they're not what put the sparkle in my students' eyes! We shouldn't lose sight of that when seeking to move large numbers of people to action. So where are the stories of beauty and grace from the beneficiaries of RFF?
re: Why I've been running
By: helen dubois on: 09/11/2007
Amos, I loved reading about the evolution of PLN and your thought process. One thing that you didnt touch on, which I think has contributed greatly to the preservation of open space and farmland in Britain and France, is ag policy. You yourself have used ag bills to achieve conservation goals and we need to do more of that, aligning the incentives better so private landowners are encouraged rather than discouraged by govt regulation to do the right thing (in this case manage land sustainably.) I will be passing this along...HRD