Can We Please Stop Calling It Land Protection?

One of the most intriguing, important, and complex discussions going on in conservation right now involves the concept of land protection.  In many ways, the term land protection is flawed, outdated, and even offensive, but we’ve not been able to reach consensus on an alternative.  The term effective conservation is a frontrunner that I think has some promise, but I’m not sure it’s perfect either.

Many conservation organizations were started by people who were rightly concerned that beautiful and important natural areas were being transformed – often irreversibly – in ways that destroyed or greatly diminished their intrinsic value.  Land protection was seen as the way to save places from that fate.  In most cases, successful protection meant putting the land into the ownership of a government or conservation organization so it would remain intact and safe from becoming a housing development, cropfield, or strip mine.  Often, protection also meant safety from logging, grazing, or other practices that were seen as potential threats to the integrity of the ecosystem.

I love having public lands to explore on my vacations, including designated wilderness areas. On the other hand, I feel an urgency to visit them soon because the lack of management many areas receive puts them at great risk of catastrophic wildfires and other threats. These areas are legally protected, but only from selected pressures.

Science and conservation have grown tremendously since the early days of land protection.  We still face huge threats to the health and integrity of ecosystems, but we also recognize that protecting the integrity of land includes much more than just preventing dramatic conversions to suburban housing or tilled land.  It means ensuring land is managed in ways that maintain species diversity, productivity and ecological resilience. 

Drawing lines on a map and designating places as parks or preserves can provide them with the legal status to stave off dramatic conversions.  That’s been a very important strategy across the world. While many parks and preserve are well managed, however, it’s also easy to find examples that are becoming degraded because of insufficient or poor land stewardship.  On the flip side, there are plenty of examples of privately owned lands in terrific shape that are being actively and thoughtfully managed.

What does land protection even mean, then?  The model of land protection through legal designation has worked well in many cases, but also has many flaws, especially because that designation doesn’t always ensure (and often hinders) effective management.  At the same time, while many private lands have a long history of being well-managed and have done a great job of ‘protecting’ ecosystems, there is no guarantee the next owner will take the same approach.  Neither of those examples provides long-term assurance that ecosystems will remain healthy.

On private lands, there are tools such as conservation easements that a private landowner can choose to employ to make sure subsequent owners don’t till up, mine, or build houses on their land in the future.  Easements can be helpful when that kind of conversion is a serious threat, but they don’t typically provide much protection against threats like invasive species, overgrazing or fire suppression.  The greatest worry of landowners who spend a lifetime carefully restoring and/or managing their property is that all their work will be undone after they’re gone. 

One of the best regulators of sustained and thoughtful private land management is the local culture in an area.  When there is a shared land ethic among the majority of people in a geographic area, multiple good things happen.  First, there is a strong social pressure to manage land in ways that conform to that land ethic, even when other approaches might be more financially lucrative.  Because humans are social creatures, that pressure is real and effective. 

Second, a local land ethic is often supported and codified in local laws and customs, building an additional layer of ‘protection’.  Tax laws, zoning regulations, and even the way bank loans are evaluated can all be greatly influenced by a local land ethic.  The result is an entire community of people who have agreed to a social contract regarding the way they interact with the land.

The Nebraska Sandhills is an example of a landscape I think should be considered ‘effectively conserved’. The ranchers there have done an excellent job of keeping the 12 million acre prairie intact and in good condition. There are still conservation concerns, of course, including several serious invasive species, but the best conservation strategy for the Sandhills is to make sure ranchers have the tools and resources they need to continue their thoughtful stewardship of this incredible landscape.

Many indigenous cultures, of course, have sustained a conservation land ethic for eons.  Less mature, but still powerful land ethics exist in agricultural and other rural communities around the world.  Those land ethics vary tremendously, of course, and not all of them emphasize conservation as a top priority.  When they do, though, the result can be a landscape that sustains ecological function to the benefit of both nature and people.

One of the big problems with land protection initiatives is that they usually start by assuming land is currently unprotected if it isn’t a park or preserve or have some other legal status.  That’s a harsh thing to hear if you’re someone whose family or community has spent generations caring for the land in a conscientious way.  It’s especially frustrating when there are so many examples of ‘protected’ lands that are in pretty rough shape.

I think the term effective conservation has a lot of merit because it has less loaded language than land protection and feels more able to account for the various ways of assuring that land will remain healthy for the long term.  Wouldn’t it be great if we could measure conservation success by quantifying the acres and landscapes where land is currently healthy and the factors that promote that health appear stable?  We could then keep track which areas are effectively conserved and work to support the enabling conditions in those places, regardless of what those conditions are.

In some cases, ownership by governments or conservation entities might be an essential part of effectively conserving a site.  That might be especially important where there isn’t an enduring local conservation ethic or where there are significant threats beyond what a local culture can control.  Parks and preserves can also play important roles in specific situations in which a rare ecosystem or species needs a particular kind of management that may not be feasible for most private landowners.

Land owned or controlled by conservation entities can also be critical places to develop and test innovative land stewardship practices.  In many cases those organizations can afford to experiment with approaches that, if they fail, could cause significant financial hardships for most private landowners.  Those organizations often have an easier time building relationships with academic institutions and setting up research projects in ways that might interfere with most private land operations.

Public access is another important purpose for parks and preserves.  It’s critically important that we provide places where members of the general public can interface with the outdoors, explore and learn about nature, and develop their own conservation ethic.  Some private landowners can provide those experiences too, of course, but the majority tend to value privacy and control over who is on their property. 

Toadstool Geologic Park is one of my favorite public areas in Nebraska. It has incredible geologic and paleontologic features and I’m grateful that it has been designated as public land to everyone – from researchers to tourists – has access to it.

However, land counted as effectively conserved should absolutely include land in private ownership too.  There are plenty of landscapes and communities with a strong conservation ethic and a track record of sustaining healthy ecosystems.  Working with those communities to help facilitate their efforts and provide them with the best available information is an extremely effective means of conserving land.  It’s also, by the way, pretty inexpensive.

It’s time to move beyond the outdated conservation strategy of ‘land protection’.  We need a metric for tracking conservation success and progress that is more inclusive and that recognizes the contributions of a broad array of people and communities.  This is about more than just tracking progress.  It’s also about defining what effective conservation means, which allows us to come up with the best strategies to promote and sustain it.

This is a complicated topic that needs a lot of input from many people. To be clear, this blog post reflects my own personal views, not those of The Nature Conservancy or anyone else. If you disagree with my ideas or have additional (constructive) thoughts, please put them in the comments section below.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized by Chris Helzer. Bookmark the permalink.

About Chris Helzer

Chris Helzer is the Director of Science for The Nature Conservancy in Nebraska. His main role is to evaluate and capture lessons from the Conservancy’s land management and restoration work and then share those lessons with other landowners – both private and public. In addition, Chris works to raise awareness about the importance of prairies and their conservation through his writing, photography, and presentations to various groups. Chris is also the author of "The Ecology and Management of Prairies in the Central United States", published by the University of Iowa Press. He lives in Aurora, Nebraska with his wife Kim and their children.

34 thoughts on “Can We Please Stop Calling It Land Protection?

  1. I fully agree that effectively conserved private lands have to be “in the count” as intact landscapes that benefit nature — and the Nebraska sandhills are a prime example. The vast majority of public lands were never in private ownership (they were offered to private individuals as part of the Homestead Act, but were never claimed, largely because they were unfarmable) — I am speaking primarily about public lands in the West. A myriad of activities can be allowed on these public lands — but they do not have to be allowed — and this leads to stand-offs about everything from oil and gas leasing through mining to allowing an outfitter in a wilderness area. Perhaps having the goal of managing them as “effectively conserved” rather than as “protected” would allow more relatively harmless activities rather than disallowing everything with a financial gain attached. This would require a judgement call on the part of the agency — but this new way of thinking about the activity (would it leave the land as “effectively conserved”?) may help guide decisions. Very thoughtful essay.

  2. Hi Chris, I appreciate your well-thought-out description of this topic. I agree that the semantics can be troublesome. ‘Land protection’ has indeed become somewhat of a loaded term these politically-charged days. ‘Effective conservation’ captures part of the idea we might wish to convey, but so does ‘healthy landscapes.’ Perhaps there is a way to combine those thoughts…

  3. I am quite agreeable to the direction you take us in this article. There has been a too large a disconnect between private landowners and public conservationists which you do a great job of reconciling. I am both hardcore conservationist and hardcore pro-private ownership, so your writings are very interesting to me.

  4. What a timely piece. Our local group of prairie enthusiasts — several of whom privately own relatively large (100-300 acre) restorations that represent long decades of toil and expense to make them happen — are growing old. We all know we have to sell, and soon. The idea of putting our 120 acres on the open market is beyond painful. Even though there’s a permanent USDA easement on 80 of our 120 acres prohibiting development of any kind (even plowing), as your piece states so well, it’s management that counts. Our land is likely to be purchased by hunters with different ideas and/or time to manage it year-round, which is what’s required.

    Ideally, we’d like to choose among like-minded, active and passionate stewards to find a buyer within that group eager to assume the roles we hold now. But how to find them? I once approached our local WI Nature Conservancy group with the idea of a ‘Natural Areas Real Estate’ website to find what are commonly called ‘Conservation Buyers.’ (I think there used to be such a TNC program years ago?) But the idea went nowhere. It’s still a good idea. Does anyone know if there is such a functioning model anywhere?

    • Seems to me there is a private group that will work with land owners to ensure that new buyer of the land have to follow certain management paths. I was advised of it from my local NRCS agent. I’ll see if I can dig it out at after a point.

      I have little faith in public land. There is a good amount of it around me. Land that was once private but bought up by the state. It was planted with pines and spruces which aren’t even native for the area. There are areas that have been recently planted with prairie plantings. They receive zero management. I can see the slow creep of brush and trees into them. The small plots of remnants prairies are ignored but for some concerned citizens who take it upon them selves to occasionally do some management on these small plots that the state ignores. There are lots of acres of forest that are cut for lumber that should be left to continue as old growth forest undisturbed.

      I doubt if most land conservation places would have interest in my land. Its small, only 26 acres, it has no unusual or rare natural features on it and it has a house on it. My only hope is t sell to a like minded individual that will manage it.

  5. I agree that the reference to “land protection” is too vague, open to interpretation, can imply exclusivity and even sound threatening. Engagement with communities and private landowners to help ensure good stewardship practices (both land and water) are introduced or remain in place are critical for long term ecological health. This will require some clear definitions and metrics to be in place – those monitoring benefits as well as those to ensure that the benefits do not come at the expense of another marker (example being, grazing vs overgrazing; carbon market and carbon credits). If we talk about “Stewardship”, I feel there is a greater sense of commitment and ownership, and that it carries a more positive perspective than “land protection”. Great topic; thanks for posting.

  6. In Illinois, where almost every trace of the original ecosystems have disappeared, “stewardship” actually requires going beyond “effective conservation” towards “regenerative restoration.” We basically need hundreds of thousands of acres of diverse native species to be progressively re-established as a precursor to “conserving” much of anything. While there are many successful projects, if you look at the ecosystem situation today, the state has accomplished little over the last few decades, going from 99.99% of the land having lost its native ecosystems in the 1980s, to… 99.99% still absent today. So how to move beyond “conservation” will vary depending on the amount of damage done to ecosystems over the last few hundred years.

  7. “… meant putting the land into the ownership of a government or conservation organization so it would remain intact and safe from becoming a …”

    Land that had been donated to be a “park” is now often being converted to privately run golf courses, playgrounds, or water parks. The people who seek to ‘develop’ land have greatly expanded the definition of the word park since these lands were “protected.”

    Just last week, I visited native plant gardens I have been weeding for five years that surround the visitor center for a nature sanctuary owned by the city where I live. The year after these gardens were created, they filled with weeds. I thought the people in my city deserved to have a better example of what constituted landscaping with native plants.

    When I went to see if I needed to remove weeds from these gardens, I discovered the wall stone around one of the gardens had been removed and replaced with a concrete retaining wall. This garden was then covered deeply with new topsoil. Another garden had a construction fence put through the middle of it and a trench needlessly dug through it to bury erosion control fabric. Part of this second garden was dug up by construction and the outside of the construction fence became an informal trail trampling even more of the garden. Plantings that I had been weeding in the parking lot islands were deeply rutted from having been driven over or had gravel or fill dumped on them during construction.

    This was all done to create ‘visitor amenities,’ including three picnic shelters and restrooms, for the ‘nature playground’ in addition to a few new gardens for plants that attract butterflies.

    None of this damage needed to happen. Snow fencing was put around the trees to protect them. However, no consideration was given to the areas I had worked so very hard to maintain in native vegetation. People just see the native plants as weeds that have no value. There is no consideration given to the long period of work required to develop native vegetation either in a garden or ecosystem reconstruction. Until the true cost of ecosystem reconstruction is made known, then people will continue to not value their natural heritage. Of course, how do you put a price on replacing intact remnant ecosystems that cannot be replaced?

  8. I like the overall phrase land protection. Most of your issues aren’t with the phrase but with its implementation. It may be that this one has too much baggage or continued use. Stewardship is another word I like.

    Some observations:

    In third world countries, getting a piece of property into the government hands is alicense for rape. When it’s private, the private owner has incentive to protect it. Government land is protected by underpaid government employees in a culture where bribery and corruption are common.

    ***

    Aboriginals have had great PR with this image of them acting as careful stewards. Much of the time their apparent lack of damage to lands has been due to their lack of tools to do worse.

    * The introduction of the horse was the death knell of the buffalo. Buffalo are a difficult target on foot. Once the horse was available hunting was far easier. European buffalo hunters sped up the process by maybe 50 years. There’s a park in Alberta called “Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump which dates back to pre-horse times where the local tribes would run whole herds over a cliff. A huge fraction of the meat was wasted. They could not butcher and dry it fast enough.

    * Both plains and eastern hardwood forest tribes used fire as a management tool to improve grazing. Now the eastern forest have enough undergrowth, you don’t run through them (a.k.a Last of the Mohicans) so much as fight.

    * Inuit tribes were always one bad hunting season away from starvation. Common practice if a umiak dumped in the sea was to rescue male hunters first. They provided more calories than they consumed.

    * Records in the hudson bay archives of furs from each post do not show any attempt to manage fur production. Both in new and established forts showed the same cyclic nature of the catch. In theory you could reduce the wild swings of population by controlling the prey species. This would show up as individual trappers having a more consistent harvest from year to year. AFAIK this was not the case. (As examples: Fox is critically dependent on the mouse population, which in turn booms right after a fire opens the lodgepole and jack pine cones. Cutblock sized burns would make for a local mouse boom, and a year later a fox boom.; Mink are the main predator of muskrat. Muskrat is dependent on consistent water levels. )

    ***

    Much can be done by giving people management tools. Example: I have an ephermeral stream that I would like to convert to a wetland. My fumble fingered attempts have succeeded in going from all the spring runoff half filling a 30” culvert for in 3 days to having a trickle most of the year. But repeated contact with Ducks Unlimited, Cows and Fish, and the provincial Sustainable Resources department has not been able to bring up a guide on how to do this right.

    Woodlot associations are a wealth of information, but are very focused on forest management. I’ve yet to find a good guide for how to properly measure biodiversity.

    Plantwatch is a group that solicits the participation of citizen scientists to report sightings of seasonal events — last and first frost, first marsh marigold, first dandelion, first lungwort. At present it looks like our spring is averaging about 2 weeks earlier. But they are doing a tenth of what they could do.

    * Native camps are often trash filled with debris such as partially used paint cans, remnants of boats, sleds, snowmobiles, dog crap, human crap and remains of toilet paper everywhere.

    * P. S. Martin pointed out that megafauna extinctions closely followed the spread of humanity.

    I’m not saying that natives are poor stewards. I suspect that they aren’t the natural saints portrayed right now.

    ***

    Nothing lasts. The next owner of my land may take the same care I do. Or he may revert it back to farm land. I’ve considered putting a conservancy easement on it. but at some point I have to sell it to be able to afford the health care for my last X years. (Hopefully a small number) I am no longer certain of what the right use for my 80 acres is. It’s not exceptional, not rare. If I put it in a trust it would get swapped for some other parcel.
    ***

    • People of European descent, like myself, are not ecological saints either. The life I live is subsidized by fossil fuels. Even when I do ecological restoration work, I emit fossil fuels driving to the location. It is easy to throw stones at others, but we should not forget we also live in glass houses.

      • No kidding.
        I don’t rise, wreathed in virtue, claiming, ” I am a scientific caucasian ecologist, and know how to practice sustainability”

        No. I was mostly thinking: Ecology is hard. Really hard. Even with good math tools it’s intractable. Maybe someone living in it can understand the local ecology, and act accordingly.

        But I don’t see it happening.

        Right now, the only real reason to justify the aboriginal reputation is the low population density.

        We need to understand ecology.

        We *really* need a discipline of Ecological Engineering that is better than throwing species against the wall and measuring how long it takes for them to die out.

  9. As an Illinoisian, I agree with Steve Diller’s comment above. I think his observation applies to most of the Midwest, where land is majority private-held, and in the Corn Belt, where industrial agriculture is especially intensive. Individual stewardship as a strategic policy in this region is inadequate when put up against the relative absence of any protected lands with intact ecosystems, and the overwhelming economic imperatives of chemical agriculture that make it hard to pursue alternative practices.

    I agree with Chris’s larger point, though, and experienced it first-hand just yesterday. I met my father and son for a hike in Kankakee River State Park, a ten-mile stretch of wild, undeveloped river. It is beautiful and a treasure. However, the woods on either bank are choked with invasive buckthorn and honeysuckle that has grown 10 to 15 feet high. The forest floor should be carpeted with wildflowers now. I found three or four. It is an impenetrable tangle. There were few birds. It is a State Park and is protected land, but it has been ecologically abandoned by its managers.

    On the other hand, to get there, we drove past mile after mile of agricultural field, plowed up to the roadway and as far away as the eye could see, with no signs of life on bare soil and clouds of dust rising up behind the chemical tanks treating the soil with fertilizer. This is the land that used to be the tall grass prairie, now the most endangered ecosystem on earth. In Iowa 92% of this acreage grows feed for swine, raised for the global market, and which produce the manure equivalent to 125 million humans. Runoff from these facilities, and the fields that support them, make Iowa and Illinois the two top contributors to the eutrophication of the Gulf of Mexico, to say nothing of the poisoning of local tributaries. It will be very challenging for individually-held ideals of stewardship to make any headway against this situation. Indeed, it would be better in most ways if agricultural production on key big chunks of these lands were brought to a halt – whether taken off the market outright, or paid to go into conservation by various farm programs.

    The environmental historian Donald Worster wrote that we have up to now experienced two revolutions in our relationship to the land: the first, in the Progressive Era, was the invention of the ‘natural commons.’ It drew borders and made rules and left us our unique and magnificent system of parks and preserves and refuges. The second grew out of a different line of thinking, following Aldo Leopold and Rachel Carson, and gave us a ‘land ethic,’ which focused on systems and balances and landscapes and an aethics of responsibility towards life, and is even more challenging that simply protecting the land. We may be at the cusp of a third such revolution in our relation to the land.

    As we push for the goal of 30-30 (thirty percent of lands ‘protected’ by 2030) for preservation of biodiversity and climate change mitigation, we’ll need both raw acres removed from the threat of exploitation (our ‘natural commons’), AND a robust and committed conversion of private practices to restorative practices (the ‘land ethic’). Given the predominance of private lands east of the Mississippi, this could in fact have a huge impact if effective. But it will call for much more than voluntarism. It will call for hard laws, anti-trust vigilance, regulatory reduction of neonicontinoids, and a range of crisp financial incentives encouraging restorative practices. The tools exist for the USDA and Congress to move farming to a less carbon-intensive paradigm that produces food while reweaving the land into the larger ecosystems that support the insects, birds, and wildlife that are inseparable from long-term fertility of the soil and of humanity.

  10. Chris – This is such an important bit of writing, and I thank you deeply for it. The responses and comments have been thoughtful, heartfelt (sometimes profoundly sad), and loaded with facts to ponder. There is not much I can offer in addition that would not be essentially repetitive, but I will offer a bit of a critique as follows. Your initial thesis is that the term “land conservation” is flawed, and I agree. Though I know that the term was construed to use “land” in the Leopoldian land ethic sense, somehow every time I hear or read it I feel the that land in the modern language has acquired a strong undercurrent of mere “acreage” to its meaning, and this rather overshadows Leopold’s concept. And here’s the rub, you go on throughout your essay to use the word so many times – I understand with the best of intentions – such that I found myself having to “hold my nose” to read on and take in your full argument. By effective conservation, I’m sure what we mean is ecologically effective, but leaving out any reference to ecological function may obscure the intended meaning for most people as much as land can.
    This relabeling reminds me of the bad taste in my mouth over certain non-profits which have undertaken “re-branding” their activities to make them sound flashier and more attractive to younger audiences or whatever (and who may still not understand what they mean by these labels). I read a horror tale about a famous museum that had a marketing department of five full-time employees and was simultaneously laying off their scientific staff! But that is a tangential point. What I want to say is that I’m not convinced effective, standing alone, is any better a modifier than land for the conservation activities that mean so much to us, and think it might be best to keep on searching. My wheels are turning over the matter, and if I come up with something, I’ll get back to you…
    (Eco-effective???)

    • In Cook County, 70,000 acres were preserved as Forest Preserves over a hundred years ago. Now there are 5.15 million people in the county and around 10 million people if surrounding suburbs are included. Once people poach the wild plants, herpetofauna, and game, the artifacts have been looted, the valuable timber taken, and the ground left in bare dirt after the invasion of buckthorn, what is left? Acreage? Maybe land protection is about right. After a certain point ‘land’ is all that is left. Oh, and some people who are angry over getting a $500 fine for being caught collecting mushrooms.

      • To be accurate, the Forest Preserves of Cook County were created over 100 years ago. The nearly 70,000 acres has been acquired over time. Land continues to be added even to the present day.

    • Well, of all the terms in this post I expected might stir emotions, ‘land’ was not in my top tier, but I take your point. Yes, I was using land in the Leopoldian tradition and yes, I was hoping ecological function would be implied. Please do keep thinking!

  11. Today I heard, on a Zoom call with Biden administration officials, the term “natural infrastructure,” apparently meant to suggest conservation and protection of land and water. There’s money in Biden’s bill for it.

  12. Great article, I am a full time RVer who volunteers doing natural resource work for various government entities (National Wildlife Refuges, Corps of Engineer projects, etc.). It has bothered me for a long time to see the emphasis placed on purchasing more land to add to their projects when they don’t have the money to take proper care of what they have. I see a lot of privately held land that has much better care.

  13. So I get that not every publicly protected area is well managed, and that some private landowners do a good job providing responsible stewardship. The way this is written though sounds like the latter happens more often than the former. I don’t think there is any good evidence to suggest one mechanism of land ownership is better than the other for long-term ecosystem sustainability. I can tell you there are plenty of private landowners who spend no time on their land, and consider only its economic and recreational potential and nothing else. Considering how selfish people are and how easily their decisions are swayed by money, I think I’d rather take my chances putting an easement on the land to prevent future development and transfer to an NGO with a clearly stated mission and record of ecological stewardship, than take a chance selling land to another private landowner, all things being equal.

    This begs the question about why public lands are not better maintained (if that’s the premise here and the argument against public ownership). Well, that’s because we don’t want to pay for it (see being selfish above). If we actually invested in the legwork that was required, our public lands would be in much better shape. It’s not like folks in the public lands arena don’t care…their budgets have been squeezed and these folks have been asked to do more and more with less and less. Land stewardship slips down the list of priorities when hands are limited. I really think this is an intentional phenomenon driven by folks who don’t believe in public land ownership (see being selfish above).

    There is a “settler mentality” that says the highest and best use of land is development for human use (plowing or building). That is an outdated mentality. Not only does the rest of life intrinsically deserve its share of earth to exist free of a heavy human hand, such lands provide ecosystem services that we now know we benefit greatly from (pollinator, erosion and storm water retention, recreational opportunities, mental respite, carbon sequestration, and list goes on). I’ll advocate for more public ownership, not less, because it is only in the public eye that management of the landscape has a good chance of being transparent. It is also the best way to involve and teach the public about what constitutes “effective stewardship”.

      • I do agree to Chris’ point about below about the “multi-use” requirements of public land as complicating land use decision-making. NGOs whose mission is to conserve biodiversity represent a better choice until local and state governments show a willingness and track record of prioritizing ecological integrity over human use. I think that depends on where you live.

    • Patrick. I wasn’t trying to infer that poor public land management is more prevalent than poor private land management (nor was I inferring the reverse). The major point I was trying to make was simply that private lands aren’t usually included in the discussion of protected land and they should be. One disadvantage of some public lands, which I didn’t wade into, is the ‘multiple use’ rule, which really hamstrings the ability of managers to keep lands in good condition. One advantage of private lands is that there is usually only one entity making the decisions, so they can prioritize without having to negotiate with a horde of others who are shouting about their own priorities. And yes, if that one person’s priorities don’t align with conservation, that’s not good. It cuts both ways… Thanks for the thoughtful comment.

      • I know Chris – there are good folks trying very hard in public, private, and NGO arenas to sustain biodiverse landscapes (yourself among them!). The real problem with counting private lands in the 30×30 (or similar) program is that the next owner can decide to wreck the land for personal gain and wouldn’t be held accountable for it. Once that happens, it’s gone (especially if the land was in native cover). That land to me is not protected. At least with public lands, it may suffer neglect and maybe even overuse or some inappropriate use (I agree with your point about the challenges of multi-use), but at least there is some level of accountability to how its managed. I guess that was my central point.

  14. Interesting discussion. “Conservation” really depends on where you live. I live in northern Illinois, where most open space is corn or beans, and that is turning into subdivisions. Without our National Park, National Tallgrass Prairie, National Laboratories, National Wildlife Refuges, State Parks, County Forest Preserves, township open space programs, and NGOs including TNC and their bison, we wouldn’t have any natural areas.

  15. As a person who has always loved the natural world but is new to ecology and the restoration of prairies, I am fascinated by posts like this and the diverse perspectives in the comment section. If anyone can provide other essays or articles that lay out the various perspectives about these things, please provide links or titles. I am so curious about how the land is ideologically framed by different groups and cultures how that has changed over time. Thanks for the post-it is a great jumping point for me to explore more about ecological terminology.

  16. This is written in a manner that divergent viewpoints can embrace. My grandfather entered the woods of NW Wisconsin at 12 in 1888 and ended up a “woods pioneer” in BC. Dad did scrapbooks for his kids entitled “forest regeneration” on their 1930’s replant of operations – which I try to impart on my blog. Our current crop of young include engineers of remediation efforts. Full circle, and as the young tell, they hope their efforts do not require remediation, in turn.

  17. I think this post needs to be shared with legislators at both the state and federal level. You raise some excellent points that could lead to bipartisan solutions.

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