Join 3,558 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Neoconservation: Conservation Easements
July 8, 2010 12:09 PM   Subscribe

Today Minnesota finalizes a $44 million deal to conserve approximately 188,000 acres of forest, wetlands, and shoreline through what is known as a conservation easement. In addition to private funds from entities such as the Blandin Foundation, the easement is being paid for through the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment to Minneosta's state constitution, which just over a year ago created permanent funding for natural resource, arts, and cultural projects through a 0.375% state sales tax. UPM-Blandin Paper Co., will continue to own the land and be allowed to harvest wood, but the land cannot be developed or subdivided and the public must have access to the land.

Conservation easements have become a very popular method of conservation whereby a land owner keeps their ownership in land but either sells or donates certain rights to use and develop the land. Embraced by entities such as The Nature Conservancy, these easements are not without criticism or abuse. If you perform a search, you are likely to find there are easements throughout your state, county, and city; however, despite being popular only now is there an effort to create a national database of these semi-public lands.
posted by Muddler (31 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
CWLLA is just about the best thing we've done in a long time.

The worst thing we've done has a mullet.
posted by Think_Long at 12:15 PM on July 8, 2010


Mmm delicious nature.
posted by pyrex at 12:17 PM on July 8, 2010


I believe (but not sure) The Trust for Public Land does a lot of similar easements. It's good work.
posted by inigo2 at 12:23 PM on July 8, 2010


Man, the fifth comment down on the main link, "kevin110"...that's some awesome satire right there.

Wait, what?
posted by notsnot at 12:24 PM on July 8, 2010


This is awesome. They did something similar to the Finch & Pruyn logging areas adjacent to my grandmother's house in upstate NY. I think it was an outright transfer, with the Nature Conservancy acting as some sort of intermediary.
posted by electroboy at 12:25 PM on July 8, 2010


Apparently the House voted to protect quite a lot of wilderness just over a year ago, too. It's gratifying to see that conservancy isn't falling by the wayside amid bad economic conditions.
posted by clockzero at 12:27 PM on July 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


House and Senate, that is. Congress, so to speak.
posted by clockzero at 12:28 PM on July 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Conservation easements have become a very popular method of conservation whereby a land owner keeps their ownership in land but either sells or donates certain rights to use and develop the land.

Indeed, and it's been done to similar effect in Chile & Argentina by people like Doug Tompkins (one of the original corporate North Face & ESPRIT apparel founders). Through his foundation they've bought and conserved over 2 million acres and then donated it back to the peoples of those countries through a type of National Park designation.

This is a type of quirky rich people hobby I can get behind.
posted by empyrean at 12:37 PM on July 8, 2010


The easements also mean the company must allow public access, including access to snowmobile, ATV

ATVs: Destroying the Climate and Environment for Fun
every time a new ATV trail is cut, the noise and the fumes drive the animals further away. We had the year round home-schooling family that built a life up here, searching for quiet and peace, (and who lent me the bandwidth to be able to spend two glorious months in the woods this summer) but find it disrupted year round by snowmobiles and now ATVs, jeep clubs and dirtbikes. The friendly and conciliatory ATV guy says, in the end, that we have to “grin and bear it”- his club has a land use permit letting them ride
posted by stbalbach at 12:39 PM on July 8, 2010


ATV riding and snowmobiling are practically a cultural institution in Minnesota - millions of dollars are spent on trail maintenance, as well as policing the recreation areas. These days it makes much more sense to tax the vehicle users a bit and charge for vehicle registration.
posted by Think_Long at 12:48 PM on July 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Tim Pawlenty is even worse than Michelle Bachman? I think I just soiled myself!
posted by Daddy-O at 12:52 PM on July 8, 2010


Tim Pawlenty is even worse than Michelle Bachman? I think I just soiled myself!

In terms of actual damage as opposed to media hot air, Tim Pawlenty is the Death Star to Michele Bachmann's junky TIE fighter with a bum engine.
posted by COBRA! at 12:57 PM on July 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Conservation easements aren't a perfect solution, but they provide an opportunity for creative solutions that allow for current uses (including farming, logging, recreational, etc) that are incompatible with both more restrictive protections (eg wilderness area) and with property development. The cool thing is that they can be written all kinds of ways, instead of a cookie cutter approach.
posted by Forktine at 1:28 PM on July 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Where I live, there is a fund-raiser going on to protect about 600-800 acres through one of these easements. Reading the comments section of the local rag online, you'd think it was equivalent to shoveling people into ovens of dropping napalm on villages.

The argument seems to be that by removing the land from future development, everyone's taxes will go up or IBM won't move its HQ here or something...it's all a bit incoherent. Never mind that the real estate market is deader than a door nail and IBM is never going to move here, and thank go for that.

(Incidentally, if you are reading online comments at small-town newspaper sites and see the handle "business owner" the odds are 99/100 it's a real estate agent.)
posted by maxwelton at 1:54 PM on July 8, 2010


How does "continuing to harvest wood" count as conservation?
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 1:56 PM on July 8, 2010


Its conservation because only a certain percentage of those trees will be cut at any one time and the trees that are cut were planted to become paper. Its a harvest, like other crops. Paper science is a very high tech, but very exacting buisness, so usually one particular species is used by each paper processing plant. Different trees have different amounts of cellulose, lignen, etc. so its not like they just chop down parts of a forest willy nilly for paper, it'd mess everything up!
posted by stormygrey at 2:20 PM on July 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


I dunno; this sounds to me like a huge subsidy to the paper company, who will continue to do exactly what they would have done even without this deal.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:33 PM on July 8, 2010


More likely the paper company would slowly slough off the land to different buyers - property up north is getting insanely expensive and being overdeveloped for shitty McCabins or stripped for resources. This is a good thing.
posted by Think_Long at 2:39 PM on July 8, 2010


How does "continuing to harvest wood" count as conservation?

Because the alternative to logging isn't wilderness, it's five or ten acre ranchettes, summer cabins, and similar fragmented development. In terms of wildlife, vegetation, hydrology, recreation, and pretty much any other form of "conservation," selective logging is a million times better than ranchette-style development. Hell, even clear cutting is better than ranchettes.
posted by Forktine at 2:39 PM on July 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


I should have hit preview.

I dunno; this sounds to me like a huge subsidy to the paper company, who will continue to do exactly what they would have done even without this deal.

Nope. They would have done a final, drastic harvest and then sold off the land once its development value intersected its logging use value. This lets them capture some of the development value while retaining its logging value, and while keeping it as open space.
posted by Forktine at 2:41 PM on July 8, 2010


"ATVs: Destroying the Climate and Environment for Fun"

treehugger.com

Heh.
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 3:32 PM on July 8, 2010


How does "continuing to harvest wood" count as conservation?

Because conserve, conservation, and conservative all have to do with control the rate of change. Whether you agree with the status quo rate is a different matter.
posted by Back to you, Jim. at 9:29 PM on July 8, 2010


Blandin keeps the land AND continues to 'harvest' it.
I'm not impressed that the B.Foundation is willing to donate $7mil to protect 'Minnesota' forest which they will continue to own and profit from?

What exactly are they giving up for the $44 million of taxes ($234/acre) being transferred into their bank account? No more clear-cutting? No more toxins? Is this a way to make nicey-nice with the green crowd so they can keep doing what they've always done?

As for public access, the public has always had access to thousands of square miles of paper-company forest. Now they're being asked to pay for it? The 188,000 acres appear to be scattered all over the place. Is it crap that would never be subject to development/ subdivision pressures anyways? One-third of it's wetlands -- probably good for nothing else including timber (millions of NoMN acres are non-'reclaimable' swamp).

I hope Minnesotans take a close look at this deal and see if they couldn't do much better with that $44mill. If they want that money to go to people with excellent land stewardship skills, maybe it should go to the reservations instead.
posted by Twang at 9:39 PM on July 8, 2010


"As for public access, the public has always had access to thousands of square miles of paper-company forest. ."

Is this true there? Here private timber land can be restricted the same as any other private property.

I love these deals up here in Canada event hough they tend to be almost exclusively tax avoidance deals. Large chunks of land with guaranteed access is so much better than small chunks being spun off for development, even as working hobby farms, because development usually has as it's first step fences and no trespassing signs.
posted by Mitheral at 10:32 PM on July 8, 2010


How does "continuing to harvest wood" count as conservation?

It wouldn't count as conservation if they harvested trees faster than they replaced them, so that the forest was diminished year by year, but I think they intend to preserve forest land (and preserve the sort of life that thrives in such forest) by cutting a small percentage of the trees every year and planting replacements as they go along, so that there is always a forest there even though a few of the mature trees are replaced by saplings every year.
posted by pracowity at 1:15 AM on July 9, 2010


but the land cannot be developed or subdivided and the public must have access to the land.

The public access part is a shame if it allows motorized vehicles. I think most people go to the woods to enjoy the peace and quiet, the clean air, and the sight of other animals, all of which can be negated for everyone by one twat on a quad.
posted by pracowity at 1:24 AM on July 9, 2010


The public access part is a shame if it allows motorized vehicles. I think most people go to the woods to enjoy the peace and quiet, the clean air, and the sight of other animals, all of which can be negated for everyone by one twat on a quad.

This is the kind of purist attitude that gets in the way of real-world conservation. Again, the alternative isn't wilderness -- it's fragmented property development without any public access. Conservation easements are, by their very nature, compromises -- they generally allow an activity (often farming or logging) that is somewhat damaging to the environment in order to prevent other activities (generally subdivision and private development) that are far, far more damaging. Given the choice of ranchettes or ATV access, I see a pretty clear answer.

If you want purity, you don't want conservation easements. But equally, if you want purity, you aren't going to get it. No one is going to take those hundreds of thousands of acres and turn them into pristine wilderness areas with heavy protections. You want to do real-world conservation? The reality of it is that you are going to be working with landowners who only partially share your conservation values, and you will be making deals that allow some damage in order to gain some protections for the resource.

I think there are a lot of unexplored issues and potential problems with conservation easements. They are hard to monitor, and are a way of privatizing conservation with all of the ambiguities that come with that kind of fragmentation. They haven't been around long enough to see how they play out. And they can be very alienating and problematic for local communities who have been reliant on one kind of access to the land, only to have what are often wealthy outside groups using a different set of values to impose changes on that relationship with the land (the Patagonia example mentioned above is a good example of this). Still, anything that can put even the mildest of limitations on fragmented private development is a great thing, ecologically speaking, and conservation easements are a fantastic tool for doing that.
posted by Forktine at 4:33 AM on July 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


Years ago, I worked on a very early version of this legislation in MN. So: yay!
posted by lunasol at 8:25 AM on July 9, 2010


Forktime good comment. I guess it moves the goal post, new battle lines. But is it as simple as ATV vs no-ATV? Any human activity should be managed - permits to keep numbers down and raise revenue, designated trails, voluntary crews to close old logging roads, shore up erosion damage from trails, etc.. if the focus is on conservation than anyone who uses the land should be focused on conservation.

IMO if ATVs were silent electric it would help a lot, even though it wouldn't make much difference in reality of conservation. They are like JetSki's, a single rider intruding on the space of the entire lake, irritating as hell.
posted by stbalbach at 9:47 AM on July 9, 2010


With laws like this there is no way Minnesota will return to the coniferous wilderness it once was.
posted by Sukiari at 4:31 PM on July 9, 2010


But is it as simple as ATV vs no-ATV? Any human activity should be managed - permits to keep numbers down and raise revenue, designated trails

Off-highway vehicle regulations, State forest riding rules and registration information for Minnesota can be found here.

It's not like we're letting battalions of ATVs mow down the forest willy-nilly. Rec. vehicle use is destructive and needs to be better managed, in my opinion, but the Clean Water act should be representative of the positive outcome of environmental groups partnering with hunting, fishing, and rec. riding organizations rather than criminalizing them.
posted by Think_Long at 11:39 AM on July 12, 2010


« Older A lack of federal rules has made the nation the du...  |  Yesterday, the Spanish nationa... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments