Definition of a Land Trust:
A land trust is a nonprofit organization that, as all or part of its mission, actively works to conserve land by undertaking or assisting in land or conservation easement acquisition, or by its stewardship of such land or easements.
Key Findings of 2005 National Land Trust Census
- Total acreage conserved through private means is 37 million acres, a 54% increase from 24 million acres in 2000. This includes both land protected by local and state land trusts, and the largest national land conservation groups, including The Nature Conservancy, Ducks Unlimited, The Conservation Fund, and The Trust for Public Land.
- The pace of private land conservation has tripled by local and state land trusts. From 1995-2000, land trusts conserved an average of 337,937 acres per year. That pace soared to 1,166,697 million acres conserved per year, on average, from 2000-2005.
- America’s land trusts have markedly enhanced their professionalism and increased their ranks to 1,667 in 2005 from 1,263 in 2000.
- Acres conserved by local and state land trusts doubled. 11.9 million acres were conserved by these groups through 2005—an area twice the size of the state of New Hampshire. This is an increase of 5.8 million acres since 2000.
- The land type reported as being the primary focus of land trust efforts is protecting natural areas and wildlife habitat (39%), followed by open space (38%) and water resources (26%), especially wetlands. Yet the type of land protected nationwide is quite varied, reflecting the regional differences in landforms. Other protected areas are farms, coastal shores, prairies, deserts, urban gardens and local parks. Another emerging pattern is land conservation in connection with building affordable housing.
- Land trusts’ numbers, fiduciary status and organizational management are strong. The number of land trusts grew 32%, to 1,667, during the five-year period. Over $1 billion in endowments have been established for long term stewardship of protected land; and the average annual operating budget increased 63% as of 2005. Nearly 1,000 land trusts have adopted the 2004 Revised Land Trust Standards and Practices, a set of guidelines developed by the land trust community for the professional operation of a land trust.
Proponents of maintaining the status quo of government (mis)management of public lands will criticize conservation land trusts. I welcome the criticism because it forces me to learn more about an alternative to National Park Service bureaucracy. Some critics feel that private, non-profit trusts will be more susceptible to pressure than the government. In short, they don't trust trusts to protect public land.
I searched for "conservation trust", and the search yielded 1.1 million results. There is a long list of non-governmental organizations that manage natural areas. The Nature Conservancy is a large international conservation trust organization:
Founded in 1951, The Nature Conservancy works in more than 30 countries, including all 50 states with an increasingly global reach. The Conservancy has almost one million members, has protected more than 69,000 square kilometers (17 million acres) in the United States and more than 473,000 square kilometers (117 million acres internationally. The organization's total support and revenue was $1,085,669,000 with assets totaling $4,828,494,000 as of 2006.While there is criticism of The Nature Conservancy, it achieves its goals, which is more than can be said of the stagnant leviathan federal bureaucracy. National parks and the NPS are in the headlines for mismanagement and political disputes far more than The Nature Conservancy or conservation trusts.
The Nature Conservancy rates as the most trusted organization in a 2006 poll by Harris Interactive. Forbes magazine rated The Nature Conservancy's fundraising efficiency at 88% in its 2005 survey of the largest U.S. charities. The Conservancy receives a four-star rating from Charity Navigator and was named by the organization as "One of the Ten of the Best Charities Everyone's Heard Of." Source.
Smaller independent and decentralized trusts, each community-based, would not run into the pitfalls of a much larger organization. According to Karl Hess, Jr., the essential feature of a conservation trust is to reconnect people to their environment, and "eliminating the layers of bureaucracy and political organization that separate caretakers from their charge would be the first step in reconnecting people to the land."
A century of government monopoly and control of our natural treasures has endangered what it was supposed to protect. It's time for a change. Conservation trusts are not an experiment; they have a long track record of proven success.
I look forward to the day I visit a national park and see the sign: WELCOME TO YOUR NATIONAL PARK - A CONSERVATION TRUST
When I worked for the NPS, a lead seasonal told me that when in uniform I was to have no opinion. It's bad enough being told not to express an opinion, which to me seems to violate the First Amendment, but being told not to have an opinion--to purge my mind of anything but officially sanctioned thoughts--is utterly repugnant and Orwellian. But that seems to be the culture of the National Park Service.
Those inside the agency who speak out are often silenced. Those critical of the National Park Service--its policies, actions, and procedures--often find themselves silenced by Big Brother.
The NPS has censored many. In one case, the NPS and FBI shut down a website simply because it displayed a photo of an entrance sign and NPS arrowhead, which the NPS maintains is copyrighted. Search for "National Park Service" + censorship, and you'll discover that the NPS edited "gay images" out of a Lincoln Memorial video, has removed historical references to "God" from various DC memorials, and has banned books that refer to aboriginal inhabitants as Anasazi.
The NPS also censors scientists. In Rocky Times in Rocky Mountain National Park, Karl Hess, Jr. describes how scientists who spoke up and criticized the park's policies were silenced by NPS administration. In a separate editorial, a former NPS director is quoted as saying "alteration and deletion of scientific information is now standard procedure at Interior."
Scientists, whistleblowers, policy critics, history. They've all been censored by the National Park Service. Why? To protect its continued existence. Government agencies are self-perpetuating and conservative (resistant to change) by nature. Those financially dependent on the agency will defend it and will silence critics. Criticism might lead to change, and change might threaten paychecks, pensions, and parasitic profiteering.
There is a better way. We can remove parks from a political system and place their management in conservation trusts, which would be led by a board of directors elected from the pool of park employees, university faculty, local residents, and concerned environmental organizations.
Ranger Bob, a retired NPS employee who authors the Retread Ranger Station, discusses his experience with careerism in the NPS:
The common element is clear: the guys who are getting ahead put a lot of effort into self-promotion, and were quite willing to dump their workload onto colleagues. Conversely, the ones who worked hard and picked up the slack eventually got discouraged and looked for work in other agencies.Read how those who got ahead did so in Bob's full post, The World's Not Fair, And The NPS Suffers.
In "Crooks, Crooks, Everywhere," Bob exposes the corruption he's observed in the NPS. Beamis, a former NPS ranger, notes that "when your operating revenue is derived through coercion (the tax code) you set up a dynamic from the very beginning that is bound to be more corrupt than a system that is based on voluntary transactions."
THE POLITICAL STATE OF AMERICA
In Government's End: Why Washington Stopped Working, Jonathan Rauch describes the calcification of our government caused by a parasitic, transfer-seeking economy and hyperpluralism. Rauch states:
This book is not an apocalyptic tirade. It is not about the imminent death of American civilization or democracy or prosperity; I believe in no such thing. It is, rather, about a profound change in American society and behavior over the past thirty or so years which is compromising Americans' ability to govern ourselves and to solve common problems. It is an attempt to show how American society has reordered itself so as to make politicians less and less able to meet the expectations of the citizenry. It is about a social game in which Americans have trapped each other: a game of beggar-thy-neighbor and get-mine-first that damages the economy and chokes the government.
We cannot cope with the game, and mitigate its ravages, until we understand how it captures and uses us. Resentful scapegoating of liberals, conservatives, government, business, foreigners, wealthy elites, the poor, politicians, and everyone else does no good at all. A nation of expectant whiners cannot see through the trap that I am about to describe.
THE POLITICAL STATE OF THE NPS
The NPS is subjected to the same hyperpluralistic forces Rauch describes and analyzes. In the last decade, the NPS has been lobbied by hundreds of interest groups including:
Alaska Professional Hunters Assn.
Intl. Snowmobiles Manufacturers Assn.
American Motorcyclist Assn.
National Park Hospitality Assn.
Blue & Gold Fleet
Helicopter Assn. International
Edison Electric Institute (an electric utilities group with lobby expenditures topping $11 million)
See the full list at the Lobbying Spending Database.
REMOVING THE NPS FROM THE POLITICAL ARENA
Removing management of national parks from the broken political system and placing their management in trusts provides a viable alternative method for preserving our national treasures.
John A. Baden outlines the problem and solution in National Parks’ Future Lies in Trusts:
A public treasure does not inherently require governmental management. Public, nongovernmental trusts present sensible alternatives to federal management. Both Mount Vernon and Monticello are clearly "public" and both are run by trusts rather than government agencies.People automatically and falsely assume deregulating national parks equates to surrendering them to "evil" corporations. In fact, national parks were long ago surrendered to corporate management. Concession operators charge big bucks to stay in federally-funded lodges and return only a microscopic (some as low as 2% of profits) franchise fee to the parks. With trusts operating the parks, a larger percentage of in-park sales could be retained to help finance park operations and maintenance.
Endowment boards, like those running museums, hospitals, and private schools, would operate under a legal charter to steward individual parks. After receiving a one-time Congressional endowment, each park's individual trust would be "on its own." The board, established by local environmental groups, business leaders, and citizens, would promote ecologically sensitive economic activities as part of their trustee responsibility.
Creative mechanisms such as a "Friends of Old Faithful" program could entice membership, dues, and democratic feedback from park lovers everywhere. Park trusts would free our parks from their precarious dependency on national politics, encourage long-term planning, and reintroduce accountability in management.
At the political news site Capitol Hill Blue, journalist Doug Thompson describes his chilling encounter with armed NPS goons in his article American Gestapo:
For the last two years, the Park Service has brought in its "CIT" (Criminal Interdiction Team) from Asheville, North Carolina, to police crowds that use the Parkway to reach the [FloydFest] festival. . . .
As I drove towards the site Thursday, I passed two CIT Park Police officers that had pulled cars over and were forcing the occupants to pull everything out of the car so they could search coolers, back packs, luggage, glove boxes and consoles.
I pulled off the road ahead of the second NPS patrol car, grabbed my camera and headed back to take a photo of the police action. As I approached, the Park Service officer wheeled around and pointed at me.
"Sir, if you raise that camera to take a photograph I will place you under arrest," he barked.
I identified myself as a working journalist on assignment and said I was simply covering a news event.
"Sir," he retorted, "this is U.S. government property and under the provisions of the USA Patriot Act you cannot take photographs of official government activity without authorization. Put your camera down now!"
I could not believe what I was hearing. . . . I asked for his badge number. He refused to reveal it.
"Sir, you have 15 seconds to leave or you are under arrest." He had his hand on his gun so I left. . . .Congressman Rick Boucher, after receiving many complaints, contacted the director of the NPS, and the Virginia State Police took over without incident.
At the festival, patrons told numerous horror stories about encounters that day with the Park Service Police. One young woman was pulled over because she had beads hanging from her rear view mirror. They detained her for more than an hour while they searched her car and found nothing. Another young man was stopped because he had a bolt missing from his license plate frame. When the cops found no drugs or alcohol, they ticketed him for "improper equipment."
With deregulation the power-mongering NPS law enforcement gestapo could effectively be replaced by local law enforcement agencies. Cutting off the diseased limb would prove the most effective way to eliminate abusive law enforcement practices in our national parks.
Given the recent headlines, lawmakers might seem eager to do away with earmarks, the narrowly drawn legislative provisions that pay for pet projects.How does this relate to land management?
A former congressman and lobbyist are in prison because of earmark abuses, the Senate's senior Republican is under federal investigation regarding earmarks, and President Bush has called for their end.
Yet they are more popular than ever. Their resilience and controversy are central to a Senate vote scheduled Thursday on an ethics bill that some call groundbreaking and others call weak.
Hammered by scandals and heavy criticism from editorial pages, Senate leaders are urging colleagues to follow the House's lead in voting to require greater disclosure of earmarks.
But only a few lawmakers talk of eliminating them altogether, and the reason is simple: While many Americans criticize earmarks in general, they seem to love them when they result in a new bridge, senior center, [national historic site] or employer in their home town.
Stevens throwing McCabe a $700,000 bone. Didn't even have to compete for it. How inflated is that number for the work that was done? of , the Senate's longest-serving Republican, is facing two federal probes involving earmarks.
Stevens has dealt with much smaller earmarks that may prompt colleagues to rethink the practice's political cost-benefit ratio.
About $700,000 of nearly $4 million directed to the National Park Service was paid to companies associated with Trevor McCabe, a former legislative director for Stevens, according to officials familiar with the deals. That's a pittance in federal spending terms, but illustrative of the often questionable relationships between earmarks and the general public's best interests, say some lawmakers and outside groups.
If national parks were managed to be self-sufficient and didn't rely on Congress for money, corruption and waste could be purged from the system resulting in a net benefit for the public and the parks.
And at Amy Ridenour's National Center Blog, I found a list of legislation passed that threatens property rights and promises to increase the bureaucracy of the NPS while simultaneously draining its resources:
- The "National Heritage Areas Partnership Act" (S. 278), a bill that would establish "a system of National Heritage Areas" throughout the country, thereby accelerating the creation of new national heritage areas.
National heritage areas are congressionally designated preservation zones where the National Park Service and select special interest groups ... as a partner to manage local land use policy. In other words, they result in federal and special interest land use planning.
The federal government funds the interest groups and the interest groups spend money lobbying local governments for land use restrictions in the heritage area. In addition, the interest groups gain the added muscle of the National Park Service to strengthen their influence.
Entranced by the opportunity to siphon millions of dollars of pork back to their home states and districts, congressmen rarely pay any mind to the negative property rights implications associated with national heritage areas.
Should S. 278 eventually become law, expect congressmen to line up at the trough to get their slice of the national heritage area pie.
- Legislation (S. 289, S. 443, S. 444, S. 800, S. 955) to create five new national heritage areas, including the especially controversial "Journey Through Hallowed Ground."
- Legislation (S. 817, S. 1182) to expand the boundaries and/or increase funding for six existing national heritage areas and corridors. Note that funding for national heritage areas is supposed to terminate after a specified period of time. This is one of the big talking points from the pro-heritage area crowd. They claim that they only need millions of federal dollars over a period of a 10 or 15 years, after which point they'll be self-sufficient and no longer in need of federal support. To date, no heritage area has ever had its federal funding terminated. When they reach their funding expiration, they simply ask Congress to extend their funding, and Congress is only too happy to oblige. As such, heritage areas are permanent drains on federal resources, and on a National Park Service that currently suffers a multi-billion dollar maintenance backlog crisis.
- Legislation (H.R. 1100) to grant land acquisition authority to the federal government to expand the boundaries of a National Historic Site.
- Legislation (S. 637, H.R. 407) to "study" the prospect of creating two more national heritage areas.
A better government would be cleared of excessive regulation and would allow competition. To use an ecological analogy, the government has become like modern forests: dense and overgrown to the point where nothing can grow; it is a tangled mess making navigation through it nearly impossible. It needs a fire to clear out the overgrowth (Director's order this and Director's order that) and to return nutrients (money) to the soil so that the trees of the forest (national parks in this case) may grow stronger and so that new plants (innovations and competition) may take root in the ashes of the forest to replace older, dying plants (outdated ideas, programs, laws--such as the Organic Act).
Park Service officials, who work for the American people, refuse to disclose what should be public information. It's symptomatic of the larger problem of the calcification of government under the pressure of transfer-seeking interest groups who permeate government. During the last decade, the NPS has been lobbied by 30-50 interest groups per year representing a plethora of interests waving the banner of altruism while they, like all of us, look to secure their individual interests. There's an association of museums, mountain bike and ATV groups, "hospitality" groups, and even hiking groups (who lobbied for and got a million dollars for an outhouse in Glacier's backcountry in the late 80s).
To cut political interest, it is necessary to depoliticize national parks, and to do that, it's imperative that the NPS bureaucracy be abolished. The Organic Act, written almost 100 years ago, is anachronistic and was heavily altered by interest groups of the time such as railroads, hotel owners, and the National Park Transportation Association, a government-sanctioned monopoly that promised no visitors to Yellowstone would be "subjected to the hazard and inconvenience of walking ... through the park". Special interests shaped the Organic Act by forcing rhetorical changes such as changing the word preserve to conserve and by redefining unimpaired.
It's time for a new charter for the management of our national parks, a charter that shuns interests groups and mandates preservation and scientific management of our national parks. Parks should remain public trusts but should be administered by non-government organizations.
I understand this idea will upset many, especially those who have a financial interest in perpetuating the status quo. However, people should ask themselves what it really is that they love: national parks or the National Park Service?