Conservancy Talk Conservancy Talk: The Green Blog of The Nature Conservancy Wed, 26 Nov 2014 08:00:08 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Cities Should Look to Nature to Bridge Investment Gap in Water Wed, 26 Nov 2014 08:00:08 +0000 From Los Angeles to Mumbai, natural solutions have the potential to save cities $890m a year in water treatment costs alone.

The water sector has always struggled for investment, and each year the gap between dollars being spent and dollars that need to be spent on critical water infrastructure grows. The US, for example, is facing an $84bn funding gap by 2020, and it is estimated to grow to more than $140bn by 2040.

Despite numbers like these from around the world, investment in water remains low as cities struggle to keep annual budgets out of the red. Governments, international organisations and water utilities are trying to find solutions that provide for growing global populations, but traditional financing of engineered structures cannot get us there alone. We need to think beyond city boundaries and look to nature for a solution and an investment opportunity.

The provision of clean drinking water is arguably the most fundamental service provided by cities and utilities. It’s not only fundamental for sanitary living conditions; it’s expected by city residents. Despite this, cities struggle to access the capital required for the necessary investments to provide this “basic” service.

Urban Water Blueprint

A new report by The Nature Conservancy – the Urban Water Blueprint – shows one route out of this deadlock. And that route starts with realising where cities’ water comes from.

According to the report, some 823 million people live in the 100 largest cities around the world. These cities occupy less than 1% of our planet’s land area, but their source watersheds—the rivers, forests and other ecosystems from which they get their water—cover over 12%. That’s an area of land roughly the size of Russia. Some of these watersheds lay far outside of a city’s boundaries, and collectively, these cities transfer 3.2m cubic metres of water a distance of 5,700km every day to meet residents’ needs. As more people move into cities, the demand for water will continue to increase. This will require cities to better protect what limited supplies they have.

Watersheds are the most basic water supply infrastructure for cities. They collect, filter and transport water and can improve the quality of water that reaches cities. In fact, protecting water at its source can be cheaper and more efficient than treating it after it has already been polluted. Restoring habitats such as forests and stream banks, as well as making adjustments to the way we use agricultural lands, can reduce sediment and nutrient pollutants in water sources, offsetting the need for investment in more advanced water treatment technologies.

By targeting specific activities to a small fraction of land, millions of people can experience better water quality. For example, improved farming practices, such as the use of cover crops on fallowed fields or wetland construction near streams and rivers, have the potential of reducing sediment and phosphorus concentration from fertilizer runoff. By applying these practices to 6.4m hectares of farm and ranch land (slightly smaller than the size of Ireland) located in watersheds, more than 600 million people could see an improvement in their water quality.

Planted forests border the Sao Francisco Verdadeiro River north of the city of Foz do Iguaçu, Parana state, Brazil. ©Scott Warren
Planted forests border the Sao Francisco Verdadeiro River near the city of Foz do Iguaçu, Parana, Brazil. ©Scott Warren

This realisation changes the boundaries of the water challenge, even for the most complex environments. About 172 million people living in some of the world’s largest cities drink water that has traveled through land that is more than 50% cropland. By knowing how land is used within a watershed, cities and utilities can start to understand the opportunities for improving water quality and use nature as a tool to do that.

Mumbai and Los Angeles

Take the case of Mumbai. In the past 300 years, the city has grown from a collection of seven small, swampy islands to the sprawling cultural and financial heart of India that around 14 million people call home. Like many large cities, stability and reliability of the water supply is a concern for water managers. Over the years, managers have looked outside the city’s boundaries for water. More than two-thirds of the lands in the watersheds that supply Mumbai’s water are devoted to agriculture. The city could reduce nutrient levels in its water supply by working with farmers in the watershed to implement better farming practices on just a few thousand hectares.

On the other side of the world, Los Angeles could benefit from improved farming practices in its distant watersheds, too. Some 90% of the city’s water travels an average distance of 71km, some of which is through the agriculturally-dominated Central Valley picking up agrichemicals and sediment runoff from fields along the way. The city could improve water quality and reduce treatment costs by working with farmers on just 1,000 hectares to reduce field nutrient runoff.

Savings of $890 Million a Year in Water Treatment Costs

There are many cities and utilities that could see similar results by adding nature to their water treatment toolbox. In fact, out of all 534 cities analyzed, one in four that apply natural solutions to their watersheds could realise a positive return on investment. Natural solutions have the potential to save cities $890m a year in water treatment costs alone. Significant additional savings will come from avoided capital expenditures for additional treatment plants.

Cities, whether in the red or black, will have to look well beyond their walls to overcome the investment gap in the water sector. Nature can play a critical role in improving water quality and reducing water treatment costs, but it will require the water sector to redefine its scope, as sustainable farming, ranching, and forest management all become investable opportunities in the provision of clean, safe water to people.


Opinions expressed on TALK and in any corresponding comments are the personal opinions of the original authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Nature Conservancy.
]]> 1
Carrying the Torch from Arkansas to Zambia Mon, 24 Nov 2014 08:00:29 +0000 Nothing reminds you that you’re not in Arkansas anymore like a pair of lions blocking your path to dinner.

One May night last year, my colleagues Mike Melnechuk, Roger Mangham and I were walking from our tents to the dining room at the Mukambi Safari Lodge in central Zambia when our flashlight’s beam revealed two sets of gleaming eyes in the tall grass about 60 feet ahead. Not wanting to become dinner ourselves, we backed slowly into a nearby shower building and waited there for nearly an hour until the big cats decided to continue their evening stroll.

As the adrenaline from that encounter faded, I reminded myself that humans pose more danger to wildlife in Zambia than vice versa. Poaching is one of the biggest environmental concerns facing 22,480-square-kilometer Kafue National Park, where elephant, buffalo, cheetah, leopard and antelope roam. The growth of ecologically responsible tourism—Mukambi is one of at least 15 safari camps around the park—is helping to bolster conservation efforts and create an economic alternative to poaching.

Though our wildlife in Arkansas is not quite as dramatic as Zambia’s, our landscapes have more in common than you might imagine. Both include a mix of open grasslands and forested areas. And in both places, the combination of hot, dry seasons and windswept plains can be a recipe for destructive wildfires.

As a fire ecologist with The Nature Conservancy since 2001, I know that fire doesn’t always have to be an enemy. Used properly, it can be a powerful ally that helps rejuvenate the land and prevent larger blazes. For the past three years, I have traveled to Zambia to help our partners apply this principle to their own situation.

In Arkansas, as in much of the American South, the landscape looks very different from they way it did when fire was allowed to clear debris and regulate forest growth at a natural pace. The past century’s emphasis on fire suppression caused forests to grow more densely, crowding out sunlight and greatly reducing the variety of our woodland plant and animal species. By reintroducing fire to the landscape with carefully controlled burns, the Conservancy and its partners have been able to restore ecological balance and native species in places like the Ozark and Ouachita national forests.

The situation in Zambia is a little more complex. Kafue, established in the 1950s, is one of the world’s largest national parks—more than twice the size of Yellowstone—but it doesn’t have a lot of roads or other infrastructure that can be used for fire management. In recent decades, as much as 80 percent of the park has burned in a single year, causing populations of grazing animals to decline. Many of these fires occur late in the dry season, when they burn hotter and faster and cause more extensive damage, often displacing wildlife and discouraging tourism.

Though the Zambian Wildlife Authority had been doing an admirable job of trying to curb late-season fires through early-season burns, it did not have adequate equipment, manpower or resources for the scope of the problem in Kafue. The Conservancy’s new Zambia field office collaborated with the U.S. Forest Service’s International Programs to offer assistance starting in 2011. Since Zambia and Arkansas have similar topographies and types of vegetation, our team was asked to help develop fire-management strategies for Kafue.

When we first got involved, the safari operators and park rangers were blaming each other for causing the fires. So Dan Kelly, a Conservancy geographic analyst, used satellite imagery to map the blazes and determine their scale and origins. He discovered that most were starting outside the park and were associated with poaching and other illegal activity. Once everyone understood the real source of the problem, they began working together.

Prescribed burning in Zambia's Kafue National Park. © McRee Anderson
Prescribed burning in Zambia’s Kafue National Park. © McRee Anderson

We established annual fire-management training sessions that have covered a range of strategic and practical concerns: setting objectives for each burn; tailoring the timing, frequency and methods to the situation; and sharing information with the public along the way. The Conservancy has also provided the local wildlife authorities in Kafue with modern equipment: drip torches to start small fires, as well as rubber fire swatters and backpack-style sprayers to keep flames in check.

Equipped with the proper tools and techniques, Kafue’s caretakers can now conduct early burns more efficiently to curb catastrophic wildfires—freeing up time and resources to fight poaching instead. This year, for the first time, four Zambian officials came to Arkansas to observe and take part in planned burns around the state.

Among their wildlife sightings was a red-cockaded woodpecker, an endangered species whose habitat is dependent on fire, and one of our program’s success stories. It may not have been as fearsome as a lion, but as a symbol of how we can solve complex conservation problems when people work together, it was every bit as thrilling.

McRee Anderson is the director of The Nature Conservancy’s fire-restoration program in Arkansas. This essay appeared in the Oct/Nov issue of Nature Conservancy magazine.

Opinions expressed on TALK and in any corresponding comments are the personal opinions of the original authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Nature Conservancy.
Opinions expressed on TALK and in any corresponding comments are the personal opinions of the original authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Nature Conservancy. – See more at:
]]> 1
Are Marine Protected Areas in the Right Places to Support People? Tue, 18 Nov 2014 16:31:44 +0000 I’m at the World Parks Congress, a-once-a-decade global meeting of scientists, protected-area managers and other experts to focus on the state and future of national parks and nature reserves. There’s so much to talk about here—new science and technologies to monitor parks, ways to engage local communities, and government commitments to add new protected areas to a growing global list.

But I’m focused on a different question: I want to know whether national parks and nature reserves are located in places where they can successfully protect some of nature’s most important services to people, including providing natural barriers to storms, producing fish, storing carbon, and supporting tourism and recreation industries?

In advance of the Congress, colleagues and I conducted new research looking at the location of protected coral reefs and mangrove forests, in particular—iconic habitats with immense importance for both people and nature.

Along with colleagues at Cambridge University, World Resources Institute, UNEP’s World Conservation Monitoring Centre and BirdLife International, we are releasing some preliminary findings to coincide with the Congress.

In our discussion paper, we start with five global maps focused on key services coral reefs and mangroves provide to people. Specifically, we examined the tourism, coastal protection and fisheries services of coral reefs; and the carbon storage and fisheries benefits of mangrove forests. We then apply a simple overlay of maps that reveal how many of these services are contained in the world’s protected areas.

The answers are, not surprisingly, mixed. However, the message is a bit clearer: outside of the tourism industry, we must do a better job of articulating the full value to people of these ecosystems, and protecting the places that maximize this value.

Mangrove forests are “fish factories” that support fishing jobs and food security for many coastal communities. Globally, 36 percent of mangroves are in protected areas, but a much lower percentage of their fisheries values fall in these sites. Indonesia, for example has 20 percent of its mangroves in protected areas, but only 10 percent of its fisheries production value is protected. This is hardly a wise allocation given the crucial industry to the region, both for jobs and sustenance, let alone the growing global appetite. These numbers are similar for nearby countries, and the East and Southeast Asia region overall.

By contrast, tourism values the world over, are generally well protected. In Australia, with its iconic Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, tourism is a major industry. While 83 percent of all Australia’s coral reefs are in protected areas, an estimated 91 percent of the tourism income from coral reefs is derived from sites in protected areas.

Governments and communities seem to better understand the value of tourism, and the economic and social benefits of safeguarding such value. At a World Parks Congress reception celebrating recent successes of the Coral Triangle Initiative with The Nature Conservancy and partners, Australian Environment Minister Greg Hunt said, “If the reef pays, the reef stays.”

In reality, ecosystems “pay” in many ways, but the challenge for the science and conservation field is to give the full suite of ecosystem values a voice that can influence governments. We need to do a better job of showing all the ways ecosystems “pay.” Going forward, we need to better articulate the other critical services provided by coastal and marine habitats, such as fish production and coastal protection. The global conservation community has talked a lot about these values, but ours is one of the first global studies to try and quantify their protection, and it is part of our wider initiative we call mapping ocean wealth.

The need is clear and urgent. With these ecosystems under increasing strain globally, we can’t wait ten years until the next World Parks Congress. We need to ensure that protected areas are indeed protecting the services people need, and that future designation and management of protected areas deliver for both people and nature. If we can better articulate their full value, we stand a better chance of protecting these critical places.

A summary of The Nature Conservancy’s work at World Parks Congress is available here.

Opinions expressed on TALK and in any corresponding comments are the personal opinions of the original authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Nature Conservancy. – See more at:
Opinions expressed on TALK and in any corresponding comments are the personal opinions of the original authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Nature Conservancy.
Lizard Island, Australia © elmarte74/flickr under a creative commons license
]]> 2
Bourbon, Bipartisanship and the Benefits of Nature Tue, 18 Nov 2014 08:00:12 +0000 President Obama and the next Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), in a moment of statesmanship, searched for a bit of common ground the day after the November election. Tax reform? Trade agreements? How about a glass of Kentucky bourbon?

Maybe that proffered glass offers some big, unexpected opportunities—opportunities to bring Democrats and Republicans together around an environmental agenda.

How could this be? Environmental issues, after all, usually fall into the category of partisan conflict. But there’s a story behind that glass of bourbon. And it’s a story with bipartisan appeal and broad public support.

Bourbon is Kentucky’s own special whiskey—or “water of life.” Its heritage starts with the limestone waters of Kentucky’s landscape. The limestone, a natural filter, keeps the water clean. Its high pH even facilitates fermentation. For bourbon makers, investing in Mother Nature to sustain these waters is good for wildlife—and good for business, too.

The benefits of nature go well beyond securing a glass of good bourbon. Wetlands purify waters. Oyster reefs and coral reefs help reduce the impact to coastal communities from waves during storms. The benefits are nontrivial. Examining these benefits, The Nature Conservancy found that coral reefs can reduce wave energy by a whopping 97 percent.

Even in cities, nature can help. Planting trees and transforming concrete back into permeable surfaces—like grassy grounds—can keep cities cleaner, protect against flooding, and manage storm water runoff.

And investing in nature can offer cleaner, cheaper, smarter solutions to protecting cities from floods, keeping water clean, and, even reducing energy costs through the shade that trees provide. What’s not to like?

Voters have figured this out. Election Day 2014 brought the biggest land and water conservation funding victory in U.S. history. Nineteen states approved 27 state and local ballot measures that will bring over $29 billion for land and water protection. In many cases, these measures pulled support from more than two-thirds of voters, across the political spectrum.

Yes, these measures will bring new parks. But many of these ballot measures also aimed to invest in nature with an eye to its contribution to reducing flooding and storm damage and protecting water for communities.

This focus brought new partners to the conservation table. Infrastructure contractors, emergency planners, engineers, and others joined conservation enthusiasts to bring these ballot measures to overwhelming victories.

capitol tnc_58915745_preview_croppedAmerica voted for nature—in states, cities, and towns. When Obama and McConnell sit down for that glass of bourbon, they would do well to add conservation to their “to do” list of bipartisan opportunities.

In 2015, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, bedrock funding for nature, comes up for reauthorization. Its revenues do not come from taxpayers. They come from the public’s share of proceeds from federal oil and gas leases. Reauthorizing the fund, originally set at an annual $900 million for conservation, would help communities across America protect their drinking water and conserve lands and waters that keep communities, safe, prosperous and healthy.

With a growing population, more demands on water resources, and more people living along coasts subject to hazardous storms, investing in nature is not just nice. It is essential for community safety and basic needs.

There is even a potential bipartisan “smart regulations” agenda Democrats and Republicans can jointly embrace. When Philadelphia tried to use green rooftops and greenways to reduce overflows of storm water, it took years of negotiating with the Environmental Protection Agency to get approval for an approach that would do the job and cost the city less than building miles of new pipes and underground tunnels to manage the water.

These “green innovations” should not be so difficult—for cities or companies. Republicans, always on the alert for regulatory streamlining, and Democrats looking for environmental benefits, could join up for a regulatory “refresh” to help companies and communities that want to invest in nature’s solutions.

When those bourbon glasses are raised in a moment of comity, the president and Senator McConnell should think about that bourbon and the clean waters upon which it depends—and find some common ground for a new environmental agenda.

Opinions expressed on TALK and in any corresponding comments are the personal opinions of the original authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Nature Conservancy. – See more at:

Lynn Scarlett is the Conservancy’s managing director for public policy. From 2005-2009 she was deputy secretary at the Department of the Interior and also served four years as the Department’s assistant secretary for Policy, Management and Budget.

The post originally appeared on The Hill Congress Blog and is reprinted here with permission.

Opinions expressed on TALK and in any corresponding comments are the personal opinions of the original authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Nature Conservancy.
Opinions expressed on TALK and in any corresponding comments are the personal opinions of the original authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Nature Conservancy. – See more at:
]]> 0
The Joys of Working Barefoot in a Photographer’s Paradise Mon, 17 Nov 2014 13:00:16 +0000 Texas, September 2014

By the time I arrived at Dolan Falls Preserve it was a critical moment for me where I need a mental oasis as much as a literal one. For three weeks I drove the entire span of the widest part of Texas during the hottest month of the year with the average temperature hovering near 100 degrees Fahrenheit. I was documenting four different properties for The Nature Conservancy, each one wildly different and incredibly beautiful.

Dolan, though, was the only preserve where as a photographer I could make great compositions while also getting a break from the heat by kicking off my hiking shoes and socks and working barefoot, tip-toeing from spot to spot surrounded by nothing but the trickling of the river.

Dolan Falls is an oasis of cascading waterfalls and cool, shallow, quiet pools of water amidst an otherwise arid and rocky landscape. When I first arrived on the preserve I immediately recognized it as a photographer’s paradise with ankle-deep streams of water flowing over smooth, warm rocks in all shapes, sizes and colors. There were so many different opportunities for unique compositions that I had difficulty deciding where to begin.

web 2 dolan tnc_75486305_preview_cropped

Dolan Falls consists of 4,965 acres and is bolstered by an additional 157,994 acres that is either owned in fee or under Conservancy conservation easements along the Devils River.

web tnc_33900607_preview_cropped

It is located at the intersection of three biological regions: the Edwards Plateau, Chihuahuan Desert and Rio Grande Plain brushland. This combination of terrain creates a landscape of outstanding beauty and diversity supported by the pristine waters of Dolan Springs, Dolan Creek and the Devils River.

All images © Ian Shive
Opinions expressed on TALK and in any corresponding comments are the personal opinions of the original authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Nature Conservancy.
Opinions expressed on TALK and in any corresponding comments are the personal opinions of the original authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Nature Conservancy. – See more at:
Opinions expressed on TALK and in any corresponding comments are the personal opinions of the original authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Nature Conservancy. – See more at:
]]> 1
My Place is Fire Mon, 10 Nov 2014 08:00:29 +0000 “Some people feel a connection to their hometown or birthplace. For me, my place is fire. It’s a heartfelt connection to the land and the renewal and healing properties that fire brings to the landscape and the people who depend on it for food, water and even recreation. It’s ancient, primitive.” — Jeremy Bailey, the Conservancy’s associate director of fire training

Jeremy Bailey’s mom may have unknowingly charted the course of her son’s career at his 5th birthday party when she arranged a ride in a fire truck bucket for him and his friends. From that moment on, Jeremy was hooked. At 14, he joined the local volunteer fire department’s apprenticeship program in his hometown of Gypsum, Colorado, and at 18, he began responding to fires and emergencies.

While attending Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa, Jeremy and his roommates pulled double duty as students and firefighters.

“We didn’t have a car, so anytime our pagers went off, even at 3 in the morning, we’d take off running for the fire house, which was over a mile away. We could do it in 8 minutes. By the time we arrived, we’d be wide awake and ready to go.”

After college, Jeremy worked as a wildland firefighter with the U.S. Forest Service and the National Park Service, holding a variety of leadership positions, including Hotshot squad leader. And then, after 14 years of fighting wildland fires, he made a critical career transition – from firefighter to fire lighter.

“While working wildfires in New Mexico, I started to see the benefits of controlled burns,” he says. “We’ve been investing millions and millions of dollars in suppressing fire, but fire has been a natural part of the environment and human culture for thousands and thousands of years. If we move the pendulum back to where people are using and managing fire to improve the health of their local forests and prairies, then we have a better chance of avoiding harmful wildfires.”

Jeremy Bailey, the Conservancy's Associate Director of Fire Training © Ryan Donnell
Jeremy Bailey, the Conservancy’s Associate Director of Fire Training © Ryan Donnell

Jeremy joined The Nature Conservancy in 2008 and has been lighting (controlled) fires ever since. Today, as the Conservancy’s associate director of fire training, he particularly takes joy in organizing classroom and field training events that bring together ranchers, government staff and private landowners and Native Americans from the United States and beyond.

“Like doctors practice medicine, we practice fire. It’s a continual learning experience,” he says.

Recently, Jeremy has worked with the Yurok, Hoopa and Karuk tribes along the Klamath River in the mountains of northern California.

“This region has been a safe and productive place to live for more than 13,000 years,” notes Jeremy. “These tribes, their ancestors have used fire to keep their forests healthy, which in turn has provided strong redwoods for canoes, plants for basket making and bountiful acorns from tanoak trees.”

Acorns have been a staple in the tribes’ diets for generations. Acorn water is an essential part of spiritual ceremonies, and acorn soup, which is easy to digest, is often given to people who are sick as well as the elderly. In fact, the elders of the tribes are known to savor acorns like other people savor candy.

Hazel sticks are used to make basket frames, but hazel needs to be burned to ensure it grows straight and is pliable. Bear grass, another fire-dependent plant, is also an important plant for basketry.

“The women of these tribes are bar none the finest basket makers in the world. When we were helping the Karuk with controlled burns, the women were glowing they were so happy that we burned lands that produced the reeds needed for their baskets.”

Rewards don’t come easy, though. Risk is an inherent part of a fireworker’s life.

Watching the fire © Chris Helzer
Watching the fire © Chris Helzer

“When working a fire, my head is on a swivel all the time, constantly looking left to right, ready to step out of the way. We don’t take lunch breaks. You take your sandwich out of your bag and eat it while watching the fire.

“Fire is so dynamic that it just changes from one slope to the next, from one hour to the next, from one plant community to the next. You never turn your back on a fire – any fire.”

One of the best defenses a fireworker has is his (or her) clothes and gear. No fireworker steps foot in the field without Nomex® (special flame-resistant fiber) shirt and pants, a cotton undershirt and regulation hardhat and leather boots.

“Our shirts are permanently soot-stained, and we go through pants like crazy, particularly working grass fires. Grass on fire is like a sprint, it moves so quickly and our pants get hot from it that they lose their protective quality. And our boots get such a work out, they only last a couple of years.”

As for equipment, fireworkers carry everything from a shovel to a drip torch, a metal can that literally drips fire. But one thing that’s not on any equipment list is a fireworker’s lucky charm.

“I carry a little red buffalo made from stone,” says Jeremy. “Red buffalo is the name many tribes gave to fire because it runs across the endless prairies like a herd of red buffalo. I keep it in my pocket during burns.”

Suddenly, Jeremy, who’s on his way to a fire training event in New Mexico, realizes he left his red buffalo on his desk in Salt Lake City. Unfazed by superstition, Jeremy knows his training and experience are the real lucky charms.

Opinions expressed on TALK and in any corresponding comments are the personal opinions of the original authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Nature Conservancy.
Opinions expressed on TALK and in any corresponding comments are the personal opinions of the original authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Nature Conservancy. – See more at:
]]> 2
Leaf Blowers: A Lament Fri, 07 Nov 2014 11:06:34 +0000 Editor’s note: On his bus commute last week, senior marine scientist Mark Spalding, overcome by the incessant buzz of leaf blowers, began to wonder what ever happened to letting nature takes its course. At least when it comes to autumn leaves.

Since when were autumn leaves such an offence? It seems the very existence of such leaves must now be denied. Every city and town, it seems, is investing in bigger, smellier and noiser blowers and suckers to remove them from streets and parks, even as they are still falling. Stop! Enjoy the seasonal mayhem of mountains of multi-coloured leaves! Reduce greenhouse gas emissions! Lower noise pollution! Fertilise the earth with the rich mulch of nature’s providence!

When the time comes towards the END of autumn then let’s tidy up a bit. But even then, please, not with machines. Combat obesity using rakes and brooms to shift the bright leaves where they need to go. And if the space is too big to be raked, then let go of a bit and let nature in a bit. A few drifting leaves and wild flurries in a winter storm add to the charm of urban “green” space. Spare us the day-glow workers with machines strapped to their backs adding to the stress, noise and smell of the city. Stop this stealing of our autumn festival.

A festival of autumn colors © Jerry and Marcy Monkman
A festival of autumn colors © Jerry and Marcy Monkman
Opinions expressed on TALK and in any corresponding comments are the personal opinions of the original authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Nature Conservancy.
Opinions expressed on Cool Green Science and in any corresponding comments are the personal opinions of the original authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Nature Conservancy. – See more at:
Opinions expressed on Cool Green Science and in any corresponding comments are the personal opinions of the original authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Nature Conservancy. – See more at:
]]> 4
Citizens Vote Green: Approve $29 Billion in Land and Water Funding at the Ballot Box Wed, 05 Nov 2014 20:47:00 +0000 This Election Day, most political pundits opined about Red and Blue—whether the Senate majority would shift; who would win gubernatorial races. But another storyline also unfolded: citizens voted Green.

In 19 states voters approved 27 state and local conservation funding ballot measures which will generate over $29 BILLION for investments in Nature. The Nature Conservancy played a vital role in many of them. Through this vote, ordinary Americans made history. The Nature Conservancy, our partners and voters helped to deliver the largest state and local conservation funding win ever!

Part of the win goes beyond single ballot measures and into building a broader and lasting constituency for conservation. These state and local measures helped us to galvanize new – often untraditional – partnerships with businesses, farmers, sportsmen, civic leaders, even infrastructure contractors and road builders. What was the draw? More people are recognizing the real value that nature has in their lives. Bipartisan support for conservation found common ground in the shared goal of protecting Nature for people. In support of the ballot initiatives, the Conservancy and others advanced understanding among communities that Nature is essential—it helps us protect coasts, avoid severe damages from flooding, and sustain clean water supplies.

Many of these measures passed with over 65 percent of the vote. These solid voter mandates reflect levels of consensus that few other issues enjoy. And they offer insights into conservation opportunities in the future. Consider, for example:

  •  Support for conservation bridges the political divide: The Conservancy’s role in conservation ballot measures spans over 25 years. Polling and final vote totals show wide margins of bipartisan support for efforts to protect our lands and waters. Many of the 2014 conservation ballot measures required referral to the ballot by bipartisan coalitions in state legislatures and county commissioner boards. Support came from unexpected sources: Maine’s Tea Party Governor Frank LePage supported his state’s $10 million water bond because he perceived the economic benefits and cost savings associated with investing in natural solutions to protect drinking water and prevent floods.
  • Support for conservation crosses racial lines: The conservation movement is often criticized for its lack of diversity. Yet polling and election results demonstrate that communities of color overwhelmingly support investments in conservation. Vote totals in New Jersey, Florida, and California show that some of conservation’s largest margins of support came from urban areas. A great deal of Conservancy and our partners’ campaign outreach in those states was directed to African American and Latino voters.
  • Support for the concept of “nature as a solution” is increasing: Many of our 2014 ballot measures emphasized the benefits of investing in natural infrastructure, such as healthy forests, coastlines, and parks for flood control, drinking water protection, storm water management, recreation, and the list goes on. Helping people see and appreciate all the benefits nature provides was a key to getting decision makers to refer measures to the ballot and attract voter support.
  • Advocacy for conservation and environmental goals is resurging: These ballot measure wins were no accident. At the state level, they were the result of years of strategic planning, bipartisan relationship building, significant fundraising, and sophisticated, targeted campaigns. Combine The Nature Conservancy’s conservation ballot wins with the record amount of money that other environmental groups put into candidate campaigns this election cycle (the Washington Post estimates $85 million), and 2014 shows evidence of a newly resurgent, robust, and strategic environmental and conservation movement.

Despite so much gridlock in Washington, D.C., communities across the political spectrum have spoken with their votes. They want investments in Nature—to protect and restore lands, waters, and oceans upon which they depend. The 2014 voting was a historic down payment on a healthier future for our country.

Opinions expressed on Cool Green Science and in any corresponding comments are the personal opinions of the original authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Nature Conservancy. – See more at:


Opinions expressed on TALK and in any corresponding comments are the personal opinions of the original authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Nature Conservancy.
Opinions expressed on Cool Green Science and in any corresponding comments are the personal opinions of the original authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Nature Conservancy. – See more at:
]]> 2
When the Tide Turned on Climate Change — And (Almost) No One Noticed Wed, 05 Nov 2014 08:00:16 +0000 Were we asleep? Or just too jaded (or discouraged, or addicted to pessimism) to acknowledge it?

It happened during Climate Week 2014 in New York — an event that ended just over six weeks ago, but which is already beginning to seem like a distant, half-recalled dream. Oh, good things happened there, certainly — in addition to us now knowing what Ban-Ki Moon looks like on dress-down Friday, and getting a glimpse of Leonardo di Caprio when he’s not Gatsby or Wolfing down Wall Street.

But the biggest development by far passed just about everyone by. And that needs to change if we are to really make progress at Lima in December (site of the next UN Climate Change Conference); at COP21 in Paris; and most importantly, if we are to start to win the war on climate change, the only war worth fighting. No victims, only survivors.

So what was it?

This: Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli quietly announcing that China’s policy now is to “reach peak emissions” as soon as possible.

No mention of at how many gigatonnes that peak might be, nor of when “as soon as possible” might be. That debate is now no doubt raging in Beijing. And yes, it was Zhang, not President Xi Jinping.

But make no mistake: this was a radical development.

Because when it comes to reversing the tide of climate change, much depends on China (and India).

The diagram shows the annual increase in CO2 emissions in various countries. It should be noted that the per capita emissions in developed countries are still substantially higher than in China or India. © C. LeQuéré
The diagram shows the annual increase in CO2 emissions in various countries. It should be noted that the per capita emissions in developed countries are still substantially higher than in China or India. © C. LeQuéré

Europe and North America passed peak emissions long ago — just as they should. So the issue for these big historic emitters is not whether or when, but simply how fast those annual emissions decline. Not a trivial matter of course.

For China (and India), however, emissions are still going up, both on a per capita basis and in aggregate. On a per capita basis it is inconceivable that they will ever reach the levels enjoyed today in Europe, let alone the astronomical figure squandered per head by the energy gluttons in North America.

CO2 emissions chart

But here’s the good news: now China at least gets it. It’s official. A Chinese vice-premier does not travel to a major international gathering with heads of state and make off-hand remarks.

This is now national policy, and it couldn’t be bigger.

Of course, China is still going to build coal plants. (I watched one being built last week. I was in Inner Mongolia, working with the Conservancy’s landscape regeneration team.) That said, it was also reported last month that in 2013 China’s coal consumption declined year-on-year, for the first time in 100 years.

What Zhang’s declaration means is that China will build “as few as possible and stop as soon as possible” — because there is no other way to be consistent with his headline declaration, and Chinese policy is nothing if not consistent.

It’s also a serious change in tone from the previous official Chinese policy on de-carbonization, which was (paraphrasing): “We will do our bit by de-carbonizing each yuan of GDP in the economy, but you cannot expect us to stay in the 18th century when you (Europe and United States) have spent 250 years emitting your way into a modern economy.”

China is clearly not taking this new step to “weaken” its core negotiating position, as an altruistic gesture. It’s doing so because it has to — for the good of the people of China.

(As an aside: October was a big month for announcements of changes in China’s policies at the highest levels. For example, the CPC announced after its annual four-day senior-most conclave in Beijing that, for the first time, strengthening the Rule of Law (explicitly at the expense of political interference) was now a priority policy. This is probably even more significant at a broad level than the change in approach on carbon emissions policy.)

China is now setting the bar very high for the rest of the world. The interesting thing will be to watch how the China negotiators flesh out that pledge over the coming months in the run in to Lima (I would guess that’s already baked) and Paris.

And for conservationists and climate activists, the mission is clear — and it is clearly not to bemoan the inevitability of massive catastrophe due to climate change’s effects.

Instead, it is to identify those tipping points, those choke points that will be most decisive to arresting the incoming tide and, building off China’s declaration and inevitable de-carbonization, turn it.

Just last week, Mark Carney the Bank of England Governor (and a Canadian National) observed that large percentages of coal and other fossil fuel reserves currently on corporate balance sheets were likely “stranded.” That is becoming a mainstream view. There are abundant opportunities for change and for progress, if we have the wit to seize them and build on them. For instance: How long can the Harvard University endowment Trustees hold out against the tide of fossil fuel business disinvestment, led by Stanford University?

History has always been on the side of the progressives, despite our refusal many times to realize it. Canute’s feet will undoubtedly get wet. But there are now glimmers of light to the East, and they give us an excellent chance to ensure he won’t drown on the beach.

Follow Peter on Twitter @PeterWheeler

Opinions expressed on TALK and in any corresponding comments are the personal opinions of the original authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Nature Conservancy.


]]> 1
Visas, Jetlag & Red Bed Sheets: A Travel Primer for Raja Ampat Thu, 30 Oct 2014 08:00:38 +0000 It’s no surprise that having one of the most diverse reef systems on Earth (along with recently being named a shark and manta sanctuary) helped shoot Raja Ampat to the top of many sport diver’s bucket lists. But another part of its allure comes from its remote location in the politically conflicted West Papua province of Indonesia. It’s an area that even Indonesians consider to be something of a frontier.

As I planned the reporting portion of Nature Conservancy Magazine’s recent feature on Raja Ampat’s marine protected areas, I found out that getting there would be more involved than initially expected. And on my return—about 48 straight hours of air travel and layovers from Sorong to North Carolina—I thought it would be helpful to our adventurous readers to share a few pointers along the way.

Getting to Raja Ampat and back isn’t easy, but the destination is well worth the jetlag.

  •  When to Go: Weather can be rainy, rough and unpredictable in Raja Ampat from mid-June to mid-September. Since all local travel happens by boat, consider February through April or October to November to be your best bet for visiting this area.
  •  Visa, passes and permits: A tourist visa can be purchased at most of Indonesia’s international airports upon arrival.
    Passport for Indonesia © Eric Seeger
    Passport for Indonesia © Eric Seeger

    To travel in West Papua, you will also need a Surat Keterangan Jalan permit (known as an “SKJ”). Most local tour operators can help obtain this paperwork, or it can be arranged with local authorities. I was told that, for my SKJ form, I needed to arrive with two passport-sized photos of myself (head and shoulders) standing in front of a red background. That’s the tricky part, because few businesses that offer passport photos have an optional red background. In fact, no photomats or studios in my town had red backgrounds.

I was able to solve that problem by buying the cheapest set of red bed sheets at a local department store and bringing them to the photo department at my local drugstore—instant backdrop! There is also a $50 dive permit that each visitor must buy from the Raja Ampat government. The permit is good for a year, and most reputable local dive operators can obtain it before your arrival.

  •  Air Travel: Expect 30 to 40 or more hours of flights and layovers between the United States and remote areas of Indonesia. Flights into West Papua’s Sorong Airport (SOR) must be booked with local carriers, so check with a travel agent or book directly through the airlines’ websites.
  •  Water Travel: Most resorts and live aboard boats can arrange to pick you up in Sorong. Travel time by speedboat to your final destination can range from 2 to 5 hours, depending on weather and location. There are also ferries between Sorong and Raja Ampat’s major communities. Some of them are weekly (or longer) departures, so read the posted schedules carefully and ask questions before booking.
  •  Where to stay: The handful of resorts in Raja Ampat typically offer accommodations in shoreline bungalows and will organize dives for you. A few live aboard dive boats also operate in the region. For the most affordable and adventurous experience, try a “homestay” in a village-run hostel or cabin.

In the end, the hurdles to Raja Ampat are what will keep this place from getting immediately overrun by tourists, but they also are what make your first plunge into the water so rewarding. For the amount of travel time (and associated expense) plan on spending a couple weeks in Raja Ampat, visit a few different areas, and really settle into the pace of life there. Underwater and on dry land, it really is a world away from home.

For more on Eric’s travels around Raja Ampat, visit Hoping for the Catch of a Lifetime

Opinions expressed on TALK and in any corresponding comments are the personal opinions of the original authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Nature Conservancy.
]]> 1