Thursday, November 15, 2007

Nature Conservancy and the Cumberlands

The Nature Conservancy has just completed a massive land deal to save the Tennessee Cumberland from development. For those not familiar, the Nature Conservancy is the most successful conservation group you'll never hear about. The reason? They are not a very political group. What they do is purchase land development rights (or just outright buy the most important/endangered land). By that and other land protection mechanisms which are rarely legislative in nature, the Conservancy can achieve its goals (open space, environmental protection, biodiversity, etc) without being bent to the fickle will of legislators and election cycles. In terms of conservation, it doesn't matter who is in office as long as the property rights are enforced (and we will be having bigger problems if that isn't the case). This kind of thing is especially handy in situations where agriculture is being forced out by sprawl. Farmers see their property value rise and they can't pay the resulting taxes. Many enjoy farming but are simply forced to subdivide and sell some or all of their land to survive. Here is where the Nature Conservancy can step in and buy up development rights, which devalues the property and massively reduces the taxes. This is an amazingly simplified example, but one that is easy to conceptualize and I can't think of anyone that could possibly be opposed to such things. Everyone wins in such a scenario. Property rights are commonly referred to as a bundle of sticks. In the case of the Cumberland, the sticks the Conservancy have bought are often very specific. Logging companies were part of the deal and still own a lot of land - but they can by condition of contract only harvest new growth and must allow public access for recreation. The Conservancy retains the right to do any other kind of harvesting by what is called an easement (essentially a very specific property right) and it isn't too likely they'd ever give it up. This kind of "everybody wins" attitude coupled with sustainable practices and the preservation of natural beauty is why the Nature Conservancy is, if they needed some more GIS expertise, a job I would be willing to take a pay cut to accept.

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