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Conservationist says seek accord

Onetime consumption advocates now back land preservation, expert says.

Jo Collins Mathis
Ann Arbor News
04/07/2002


 

Not since Earth Day 1970 ushered in the environmental movement has there been such an exciting time to work in land conservation, a leading Midwest conservationist told a gathering of his peers in Ann Arbor Saturday.

Today, a majority of people support conservation, and institutions that once promoted land consumption are changing to promote land preservation, said Tom Bailey, executive director of Michigan's Little Traverse Conservancy.

Bailey was a keynote speaker at the three-day Midwest Land Trust Conference sponsored by the Land Trust Alliance Midwest Program serving 190 nonprofit, grass-roots land trusts in the 12-state area. The conference ends today.

Thirty years ago, attention to the environment was a new thing, Bailey told an audience of about 120. Now polls show up to 90 percent of Americans believe in the importance of protecting the environment. The climate is ripe for change, he said.

"Most of our institutions relating to land and the way we work with land are 19th century institutions: our property tax system, most of our legal system and the way it treats land and real estate," Bailey said. "A lot of our laws that regulate land use and distribution and division have their roots in the 19th century."

The attitude back then was that land is a commodity to be used, that civilization had to be protected from the onslaught of wilderness. That's changed, Bailey said.

"We understand that land is not a commodity to be used up; it's a resource to be husbanded," he said. "We understand now that civilization is not threatened by the wilderness. It's in fact the wilderness that's threatened by civilization. Instead of the frontier that we need to conquer being wild country, the frontier we need to conquer is ourselves. The frontier we need to conquer is our own activity, our development, our technology, the over-application of those in ways that will diminish our quality of life and ultimately endanger us."

said. Bailey said there's now nearly as much understanding about land conservation as land development, and that political changes will make tax policies and infrastructure subsidies less friendly to sprawl than they have been in the past.

"As the Realtors say, 'They're not making any more real estate,' he said. "And that's right. The frontier is gone ... Now is the time to mobilize all our resources: political, economic, ideological ... to bring about this transition to the land ethics and the land institutions that will serve us best in the 21st century."

Bailey said many involved in the early days of the environmental movement worked in divisive ways.

"What we've discovered is we can accomplish more by building bridges than we can be creating gaps," he said, before encouraging the crowd to be inclusive, look for the win-win solution, and seek balance as modeled by nature itself.

Bill Hanson, executive director of the Washtenaw Land Trust for less than a month, was eager to meet and learn from movers and shakers in the conservation movement. He said he agreed with Bailey's call for cooperation and kindness.

"Everybody stands to gain from land preservation," Hanson said. "We shouldn't pit interest groups against each other. We should look for ways to cooperate ... There are wonderful opportunities for smart land preservation in Washtenaw County, and there's great momentum for preserving the best of our agricultural and natural areas in the county. I just want to get out of the way of that momentum and let it happen."

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