your resource for land conservation education and reference September 2011 Newsletter [ Archive ]

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September 2011 Newsletter

OMB Director Lew has issued new budget-cutting orders to all federal agencies: “reorder priorities to achieve deficit reduction . . . improve program efficiency by driving down operational and administrative costs . . . improve the rate of return to taxpayers . . . acquire, analyze, evaluate, and use data to improve policy and operational decisions.” That’s a formula for what Resources First Foundation (RFF) provides – a direct, low-cost pipeline which delivers actionable information to the nation’s 13 million farmers, ranchers and forest owners. OMB's complete Aug. 17 memo is here.

As you’ll read in my upcoming High Country News OpEd, we’re racing toward the largest cuts in federal conservation funding I‘ve seen in my 40+ years as a conservation professional. Now consider this: most federal ownerships are over 3,000 feet in elevation. Our federal conservation lands are an inventory of mostly rock, ice and evergreen forests, and high sagebrush deserts. In contrast, the most valuable lands in the West are privately owned. These private lands control the water, the West’s lifeblood, providing water for metropolitan areas, agricultural sustainability, fish and wildlife biodiversity and winter ranges, recreation, transportation and energy grid corridors. Effective conservation calls for RFF's bottom-up approach of keeping working lands working by providing user-friendly tools like the Private Landowner Network (PLN).

New Resources
The latest addition to the RFF portfolio is the Arkansas Conservation Center, launched August 12 at the Land & Wildlife Expo in Nashville. Next in line, pending full funding: Texas, Louisiana, South Carolina, Virginia and Pennsylvania. With only 1.77% of Arkansas currently managed for natural values, this new PLN resource provides private landowners with more opportunities to rapidly improve their environmental footprint – and per acre returns – by working with a variety of state, federal and private land management assistance programs.

Conservation Value-Added 
Also at the Bass Pro Expo in Nashville, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Chief Dave White said USDA’s goal is to “restore, maintain, protect and improve things for wildlife while at the same time maintaining or increasing agricultural productivity.” As an example of creative new approaches benefiting both agriculture and conservation, he pointed to USDA’s BP oil spill response which included the Migratory Bird Habitat Initiative. “In the summer, these landscapes produce food for us and this fall they’re going to be flooded to provide habitats for wildlife. Next spring, they’ll drain them again.” He added that the initiative already operating in AL, AR, FL, GA, LA, MS, MO and TX has been expanded to cover IA, MN, MT, ND and SD as well. Approved practices for individual farms and ranches include planting native plants and cover crops in nesting areas, employing grazing methods that protect habitat, and removal of invasive trees that choke out native plant species and attract predators. 

Bottom Up
New York Times columnist Tom Friedman sees the Arab Spring as “a manifestation of ‘Carlson’s Law’ . . . which states that: ‘In a world where so many people now have access to education and cheap tools of innovation, innovation that happens from the bottom up tends to be chaotic but smart. Innovation that happens from the top down tends to be orderly but dumb.’ As a result, says Carlson, the sweet spot for innovation today is ‘moving down,’ closer to the people, not up, because all the people together are smarter than anyone alone and all the people now have the tools to invent and collaborate.” That’s a precise description of PLN’s approach: creating a conservation information exchange which puts private landowners in the driver’s seat.

Serving Landowners
Private Lands Coordinator for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission David Long explains that “The Private Landowner Network is an awesome website to connect landowners to technical fish and wildlife assistance along with federal, state, and private lands programs offering financial assistance to accomplish sound conservation on the land . . . We refer landowners to this site often because of the comprehensive coverage it provides to landowners seeking information on managing their lands. The Resources First Foundation is meeting a critical need to help ensure landowners obtain the stewardship information they need to properly and sustainably manage their lands . . . the electronic resources made available on the Private Landowner Network are tremendously helpful to us in accomplishing our fish and wildlife goals with landowners on Arkansas private lands . . . The staff of this organization is not only highly skilled and professional but has a real passion for conservation in everything they do. You can have a staff highly skilled and professional but without the passion, these qualities serve very little in delivering the message and being successful.”
Among must reads, "Investing in Nature." DuPont VP Amanda DeSantis & World Resources Institute VP Janet Ranganathan explain the business benefits of paying for “ecosystem services.”
Tax & Estate
With many tax benefits available to donors of land or conservation easements, it’s vital to understand the differences between bargain sales and donations, or conservation easements and whole interests in property. Find answers at RFF's Conservation Tax Center. 
Let your computer sort through the maze of federal conservation programs. For one-stop shopping, go to Conservation Programs and Technical Resources. Our state-specific conservation centers, such as Arkansas, also include comprehensive listings of state conservation programs and technical assistance for landowners.
PLN Blog
Catch up on the ongoing series of Keep Working Lands Working blog posts about the Chilton Ranch in Arizona, ground zero of touchstone issues in the American West. Other recent PLN blog postings include this warning from land management consultant Rans Thomas of Tecomate fame: “For the land owner or buyer, it’s really a ‘buyer beware’ market out there.” Rans points out that “a nice, raw but often lower-priced tract may have a current value of 2, but a potential of 10 – it just needs improvement.”
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