Amos Eno Speech: A Tuning Fork for Conservation

By: Simsbury Land Trust
Posted on:11/05/2012 Updated:02/09/2016

Resources First Foundation President Amos Eno told a Simsbury Land Trust audience that conservation policy is overdue for realignment

Resources First Foundation President Amos Eno told a Simsbury Land Trust audience that conservation policy is overdue for realignment.

Addressing the Simsbury Land Trust November 4, conservation veteran Amos Eno warned that “public funds for the long cherished environmental agenda of public land acquisition are running out at both the federal and state levels.” He explained that the only effective response is a wholesale realignment to re-focus conservation on private landowners – the largely unpaid and too often maligned stewards of over 71 percent of the lower 48 states.

Eno called for two major changes as part of the needed realignment:

  • First we need a Marshal plan for our federal domestic conservation infrastructure. Our National Parks, Forests and Refuges and BLM lands are falling apart. Houses, trails, camping facilities, the whole building infrastructure of our conservation lands lies in disrepair and is trodden down. The maintenance backlog stands at $30 billion. Why not put people to work, and rather than buying more federal land, let us fix our existing investment portfolio of conservation lands.”

  • Second, our most productive agriculture and forest lands in the US still reside in private ownership. We face a generational cliff in the next decade as a majority of land owners are between ages 60 and 70 plus. The US needs a national policy to keep these productive landscapes working and to facilitate intergenerational transfer of these working landscapes. To do so, as part of our grand tax simplification, we need to approve the Gerlach-Thompson bill pending in the House [to extend tax deductions for conservation easements] and eliminate the estate tax.”

Eno said that Mark Dowie got it right in his book “Losing Ground, American Environmentalism at the Close of the Twentieth Century” when he forecast that “the polite, ineffectual white gentleman’s club that defined American environmentalism for a hundred years will shrink into historical irrelevance.” Eno cited a number of authors to catalogue the environmental movement’s failures. Pointing to “the environmental movement’s loss of credibility, political ineffectiveness, burgeoning bureaucracies, and de minimus return on investment for its program agendas, such as the $600 million invested in trying to pass climate legislation,” Eno concluded that “the environmental community does not know what the problem is, much less how to solve it.”

Eno noted that one glaring problem is that the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) “has become a trough for the federal agencies and environmental co-conspirators under the guise of preservation.” He said that rather than continuing to pursue a public lands acquisition agenda, the focus should be on maintenance and long-overdue infrastructure repair.

“Instead of trying to make LWCF a permanent $900 million funding mechanism for real estate we do not need to add to the federal estate,” Eno said, “I propose a federal conservation Marshal Plan to fix our maintenance backlog.” To fund the needed work, he called for “a national real estate surcharge of 0.050%; allocated .025% for sellers, .025% for buyers on all real estate transactions. Comparable programs are in place in several states.” Rather than continue robbing the energy industry to fund unneeded LWCF land purchases, he said “In today’s world the biggest threat to our conservation infrastructure is sprawling development gobbling up farmlands and forest lands, particularly on the periphery of our burgeoning metroplexes. Why not dun the source of the problem, real estate development, and make developers become the financiers of maintaining our extensive conservation infrastructure and help rebuild our sagging parks refuges, forests and BLM lands?”

Eno also called for rethinking forest-management practices which have led to the federal government spending over $2 billion a year to fight forest fires. “Our forests, particularly in the West and New Jersey, desperately need accelerated cutting and an aggressive program of prescribed burning to restore them to health,” Eno said. “This too will provide thousands of jobs across rural America. We need a concerted effort to re-open our lumber mills to process all the excess fuel accumulated over half a century of ecological mismanagement.”

Eno called for re-thinking endangered species rules as well, insisting that “Today the endangered species program has become a travesty manipulated by organizations like the Center for Biological Diversity, using federal tax dollars, your dollars, to shut down virtually any and all land use across the vast federal estate.” He recommended a five-year moratorium on endangered species listings, to shift all funding to the federal Fish and Wildlife Service’s successful Partners for Fish & Wildlife program which works with private landowners.

To address the mainstream environmental movement’s failure to address the most important issues, Eno explained that he created the non-profit Resources First Foundation and its Private Landowner Network websites “to empower people, private land owners across America, who are the forgotten element of America’s conservation heritage, to be the 21st century’s leaders for conservation in the U.S.” He said that “most people do not understand that after a century of conservation focused on buying public lands in the lower 48 states, 71 percent of America remains in private ownership. Those lands may not compete aesthetically with Yosemite’s canyon walls, nor Yellowstone’s geysers for visual amenities, but our private lands are the most biologically and ecologically productive landscapes in the nation. As Aldo Leopold observed in his River of the Mother of God essays: ‘the geography of conservation is such that most of the best land will always be held privately for agricultural production. The bulk of responsibility for conservation thus necessarily devolves upon the private custodian, especially the farmer.’”

Eno praised land trusts like the Simsbury Land Trust for heading the nation in the right direction. He said these land trusts “are localized, serving local needs and geographies – not top-down national agendas concocted by environmental bureaucracies. Funds are raised locally and conservation design is much more democratized, and customized to local needs.” He explained that the Private Landowner Network is specifically designed “to take conservation to the ground, to individual land owners across the country, cutting out all the federal and state bureaucracies and other intermediaries so land owners can go direct to their preferred sources of information and conservation service providers. RFF has designed all our sites, the Private Landowner Network, the Conservation Tax Center, and state sites for Arkansas, California, Houston, Maine, and Mississippi in this fashion so that a land owner, say in Oregon, can seek local county and state advice and services, or alternatively go across the country to seek advice from Steve Small in Boston on tax deductibility of easements, all at the tip of his or her finger on their key board.”

Eno concluded by saying that “We need to make the world a better place than we found it, but we will only get there by our working through our local communities, as opposed to pushing national preconceived environmental agendas . . . We can certainly use more humility and more service in our approach to the environment.”

To read Amos Eno’s full 17-page “Tuning Fork for Conservation” speech, go to on the Private Landowner Network web site. Or watch the complete 54-minute video at: