EcoMeme: Land Con$ervation

conserving land

Thanksgiving is for lots of things – feasting on turkey or vegetarian alternatives with family, watching or tolerating football, and if you’re celebrating it in the U.S., contemplating the origins of the country. European colonists here learned and gained a great deal from Native Americans, yet not how to live in harmony without ownership and abuse of land.

Appropriately, all week the topic of land ownership has been heating up the blogosphere. Why? Contrasting concepts.

First, two tax breaks that make it easier, economically, for U.S. property owners to dedicate their land to a trust, thereby protecting it from potentially damaging development could expire if they’re not refreshed by Congress by the year’s end: The Conservation Easement Incentive Act; and the Rural Heritage Conservation Extension Act.

Second, there have been new reports circulating about the way protected lands are profitable, especially for nations that are growing or emerging in the “green tourism” market.

Russell Shay, the director of public policy for the Land Trust Alliance in D.C., an organization that lobbies for conservation-friendly policies, and solicits donations of private land to public trusts, nationwide, cautions free market enthusiasts: “The benefit of protecting natural resources should not be measured in dollars. Even if green tourism is important to the economy.”

In order to get people to protect land in the U.S., Shay says, financial incentives (like tax breaks) aren’t big enough compared to the money sellers here can get from a juicy real estate deal. The extreme example can be seen in Napa Valley, he notes:

“In Napa, you have the most valuable agricultural land. People prize the grapes grown there. The money an agricultural landowner could get there translates to about $45,000 an acre. But then people will spend $700,000 an acre or more to buy it for residential use, to build a house on it.”

Is Shay right, or can the worth of protected land in the U.S. be measured in dollars? Link, learn, and comment below!


“Investment in the protection of Guatemala’s Maya Biosphere Reserve is generating an annual of income of close to US$50 million a year, has generated 7,000 jobs and boosted local family incomes…” – A feature

“Brazilian states give 25% of the Tax on Circulation of Goods and Services (ICMS) to cities. Some municipalities allocate 5% of these funds for environmental preservation projects…” – A story on Brazil’s green taxation practices via World Resources Institute

“Conservation easements allow a landowner to voluntarily sell or donate the development rights of their property to a not-for-profit land trust group. By placing land into a conservation easement, owners can continue to farm and hunt the land, but they forgo ever subdividing the land for residential or commercial use…But, it’s not for everyone.” – A A news item in by Dan Testa


“An amazing 261 Representatives from all 50 states – including majorities of both parties – have signed on as co-sponsors of H.R. 1831! Senate legislation, S. 812, now has 38 co-sponsors”¦” – A news brief in

“There is [a] belief that there are some species of birds which are only found in Sierra Leone, and for which tourists could spend millions just to come and see”¦While other countries continue to make inroads into making tourism a profitable venture, we are yet to come out of our usual concept of tourism as a non profit endeavor.” – EcoMeme, a column featuring eco news, tech and business highlights by Lora Kolodny.