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November 2011 Newsletter

My thanks to all our readers who took the three minutes to complete last month’s survey – which showed more than 40% of respondents favor paring back commodity program payments while more than 90% favored safeguarding targeted conservation and extension programs. Now, please donate another a minute to fill out this month’s survey form at – you may even list any questions you’d like us to ask for our December survey.

As you’ll see in our news items below, the good news is that private landowners are making quantifiable progress in their conservation efforts. Yet much more needs to be done. Sadly, too many of the ag sector’s major players seem unable to “connect the dots” which lead to conservation.

Today’s incessant refrain is that after struggling to feed, fuel and clothe today’s 6.97 billion people, somehow the world will have to boost output dramatically to supply the needs of 10 billion or more people by 2050. The major players are pitching high-tech solutions like super-stack seeds which boost yields on a shrinking land base while slashing inputs. Certainly biotech super seeds are a vital part of the solution. But no amount of high-tech will perform the needed miracle unless we focus conservation efforts worldwide on “Keeping Working Lands Working.” The goal must be to ensure that today’s farm, ranch and forest land remains available for ag production rather than being subdivided and paved over.

Kudos to Certified Forester Bob Williams
Check out a stunning forestry documentary. In “A Working Forest, Its Future with Fire, People & Wildlife,” Bob Williams and musician/avid tree farmer Chuck Leavell explain “The world’s forests remain under siege. This siege is relentless, and is coming from both extremes. Wealthy countries such as the United States are loving many of their forests to death with a lack of active stewardship, while poorer nations are physically destroying their forests simply to survive or export their forest products to the rich countries.”
The video shows the high and incremental societal costs of not making timely forestry management decisions. Williams points out that “Every human being on this planet is dependent upon the protection and sustainability of earth’s forest resources. If you breathe air or drink water, you need forests.” For more, go to Williams’ PLN listing and the PLN Toolbox.

USDA Forest Service Warnings
“Conserving our private forests in the face of development and other pressures requires creativity and reaching out to new partners.” That’s from USDA Forest Service’s Susan Stein. For more, read USDA’s ongoing series of “Forests on the Edge” reports. USDA’s goal is to “Increase public awareness of the importance of conserving America’s private forests and lands located around the nation’s national forests and grasslands.”

Stein warns that without national action to reverse current trends, “By 2060, the area of land under urban land cover is projected to increase by over 86 million acres, while the net loss in forest cover will be over 37 million acres.” This will follow a century of stable forest acreage (1910 - 754 million acres, 2007 - 751 million).

The problem, says Stein, is that developed land area has increased at a far higher rate than population growth, with population up 19% for 1982-2000 while developed land area grew 42%. Compounding the problem, especially in eastern and southern states, is the fact that our remaining forests are increasingly fragmented as development and inexorable demographics spread their tentacles. The result is increasing pressure on forest structure, timber, water, at-risk species habitat, and other vital ecosystem services.

NRCS Chief on Great Lakes Watershed Gains
USDA’s third CEAP (Conservation Effects Assessment Project) report shows that as for both the Upper Mississippi River and Chesapeake Bay regions, Great Lakes watershed conservation efforts are paying off. Based on 1,400 unknown-to-farmers soil monitoring locations, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Chief Dave White says conservation tillage and other conservation practices have cut sediment entering rivers and streams 50%, along with cutting loadings 36% for phosphorus and 37% for nitrogen.
Those are significant gains for the environment – and significant economic savings for farmers. Even better, White says the CEAP project indicates these gains could be more than doubled by focusing conservation on land with the greatest treatment needs. And success depends on relatively low-tech practices, he adds, through “Avoid, Control & Trap." Avoid excess application through nutrient management, applying the right source of nitrogen with the right timing, placement and method. Control with conservation tillage, terraces, etc. Trap, at the edge of fields, with buffer strips, deep-rooted plants, wetlands, etc.
White explains that due to federal conservation budget cuts, NRCS “must increase our partnership with the private sector.” He says NRCS has already signed an agreement with the fertilizer industry to supply more private-sector conservation training to farmers, to help NRCS “do a better job of using whatever dollars there are.” 
For more, read USDA’s 174-page Great Lakes report.

Conservation vs. Public Impatience
A National Research Council report on “Achieving Nutrient and Sediment Reduction Goals in the Chesapeake Bay” warns that visible gains may not be coming fast enough to maintain public and congressional support. The report sees “the possibility of overly optimistic expectations among the public” and warns that while science and policy communities generally recognize the inherent uncertainties in modeling water quality, the general public “will almost certainly be frustrated” if they expect quick, visible, tangible evidence of local and bay water quality improvements. Instead, “Legacy effects of nutrient pollution already in the Chesapeake Bay watershed will significantly delay results from the program’s 
efforts” and “Sustaining public and political support for the program will require clear communication of these uncertainties and lag times.”

Climate Change Challenges & Opportunities
The Council for Agricultural Science & Technology (CAST) has released an updated climate change report, Carbon Sequestration and Greenhouse Gas Fluxes in Agriculture: Challenges and Opportunities. The 117-page report points out that “Decreasing concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases (GHGs) in Earth's atmosphere has been identified as one of the most pressing modern-day environmental issues.”
The report concludes that agriculture’s challenge is “adapting management and land use to cope with the changing climate and adopting mitigation strategies to decrease agriculture’s net contributions to GHG production,” through:
  • Increasing carbon sequestration in soil organic matter and plant biomass, resulting in a net removal of CO2 from the atmosphere;
  • Using sustainable agricultural biofuels with their capacity to offset CO2 emissions from fossil fuels;
  • Improved management of permanent agricultural land through practices that enhance carbon storage;
  • Conversion and/or restoration of marginal and degraded agricultural lands to alternative, carbon-sequestering uses;
  • Nutrient management to reduce N2O (nitrous oxide) emissions and improved livestock and manure management practices to reduce CH4 (methane) emissions.
UPS Global Forestry Initiative
The UPS Foundation is stepping up to the environmental plate with nearly $2 million in new environmental grants aimed at growing more trees in both urban and rural areas across the U.S., Belgium, Canada, Brazil and China.
“Preserving the world’s forests is critical to reducing carbon, combating climate change and protecting the planet’s atmosphere,” UPS Foundation President Ken Sternad explains. With the foundation focused on environmental sustainability, he adds that along with carbon sequestration, trees also produce fossil fuel substitutes and provide flood control and water regulation benefits. 

PLN Blog
What’s the best possible way to manage your own 24,000 acres along with 900,000 acres of grazing allotment lands? Find the answers from Brian and Kathleen Bean whose family-owned ranch is located just southeast of Sun Valley where the Pioneer Mountains meet the Snake River Plain. Among the answers in our series on their Lava Lake ranching and research operations in Idaho: “build a viable business operation capable of supporting functioning ecosystems.”

What makes Lava Lake Ranch special is its explicit goal of conservation on a “landscape” - or very large - scale. The founders set out to raise livestock in a way that would result in improved habitat for wildlife and protection of functioning ecosystems in their operating area. That meant considering the grazing needs of wildlife species such as elk and deer, and figuring out how to co-exist with predators, including wolves. It’s an ongoing attempt to weave traditional sheep ranching with applied conservation strategies.
With nearly 12,000 of their owned acres under conservation easements already, Brian Bean explains that “Our focus on landscape and eco-regional connectivity extends from local grassroots initiatives like the Pioneers Alliance, which assists local people in protecting their own lands, to a vision for public lands. It may not be done in my lifetime, but we’re off to a fantastic start on permanently conserving the ecosystems of this region. We hope the other larger ranches that have started to work with Pioneers Alliance will continue their efforts to protect the integrity of the landscape.”

Visit our PLN recommended reading list, with titles including:
Ranching West of the 100th Meridian. Edited by Richard Knight, Wendell Gilgert, and Ed Marston. Rich Knight is in the forefront of positioning ranching as a net positive to restoring the ecology of the West to its former glory.
Holistic Management Handbook: Healthy Land, Healthy Profits. By Jody Butterfield, Sam Bingham, and Allan Savory. Making grazing both profitable and ecologically compatible.
Holistic Resource Management. By Allan Savory. Savory's original thesis and bible on grazing dynamics.
America's Private Forests: Status and Stewardship. By Constance Best and Laurie Wayburn. An important study pointing out the seminal importance of private forests for the U.S.
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The Maine Thing
The Maine State Conservation Center continues to add new resources – such as listings for Guides, Outfitters and Lodges in the Natural Heritage Tourism & Outdoor Recreation Resources section. Natural Heritage Tourism incorporates the concept of sustainable tourism – that destinations should remain unspoiled for future generations – while allowing for ways to protect a place's character. It also takes a principle from ecotourism – that tourism revenue should promote conservation – and extends it to culture and history as well, that is, all distinctive assets of a place.
Some forms of agritourism may be considered a subset of Natural Heritage Tourism, particularly if the agricultural operation emphasizes maintenance of biodiversity, organic practices, wildlife compatibility, or hands-on experiences relating to farming, local culture or cuisine. So whether you’re looking for hunting, fishing or birding opportunities – or “Backcountry Hospitality at Its Best” – visit PLN’s growing stable of state-specific sites.
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