Tuesday, February 8, 2011

If Not Now, When?

Craggy Gardens - Blue Ridge Parkway
The result of my disjointed employment record o'er these past 10 months is an eclectic collection of 1099 forms representing those freelance writing gigs I've managed to land during the 2010 tax season. That, in and of itself, is hardly worthy of a post here, but in considering taxes, another likely subject caught my attention.

As in years past, the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission is asking residents to check the box and donate a portion of their state income tax return to the Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Fund. Without going too in-depth (please click on the link if you're interested), NCWRC relies on the fund to assess and manage for nongame and endangered species populations and habitat. However disappointed I am that the state of North Carolina doesn't see fit to finance this mission in its regular budget, I am grateful to know that some portion of its citizens are willing to give a small portion of their tax returns in the interest of preserving our native flora and fauna.

Supporting state and federal conservation efforts is noble, but it's not enough... not hardly. The government has an awful lot on its plate. Whether or not it has too much is a debate for some other forum. As a country, we need jobs (he writes one-handedly as he raises the other vigorously in the air), we need to modernize our infrastructure, we need to rewrite the tax code, we need to figure out a way to win a war and we need to dance gracefully across the international stage of public relations. Did I miss anything? Of course I did. The demands and interests are huge. The point is, whether we like it or not, our government isn't going to come swooping in to protect and preserve the environment anytime soon.

Enter the private, non-profit conservation groups that have become the backbone of environmental stewardship in this country. Land trusts and conservancies are doing the work that needs to be done if there is any hope of saving the last wild places we have from greed and development. These dedicated groups squeeze blood from stones as they scrounge enough money from state and federal grants and matches, private donors and partnerships to acquire and preserve critical habitats for both wildlife and humans.

It is the cruelest irony then that as the economic recession has tempered the once-unstoppable wave of new construction and unchecked development and land values have crashed, that nobody - not the states, not the feds, not the populace at large - has any money to enable land trusts and conservancies to go out and take advantage of what amounts to the deal of the century.

Without trying to sound like a volunteer at pledge central, this is the time when private donations toward land conservation will have more impact than any other in our lifetimes. If such a sacrifice is within your budget, and Lord knows I realize what I'm asking, I urge you to research the land conservancy efforts in your region. I suggest you will be amazed with what it is doing in terms of outreach and acquisition with hardly two nickles to rub together. 

If you live in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, I personally vouch for the efficiency and effectiveness of Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina. Since its inception in 1994, the group has been directly involved in the protection of more than 42,000 acres across eight counties in the Blue Ridge front range. Lest you mistakenly think all that land is locked away behind "no trespassing" signs, consider that almost all of it has been transferred to state agencies that include South Mountains State Park, South Mountains Game Lands, Pisgah National Forest, Chimney Rock State Park, Lake James State Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and the creation of the 1,400-acre Linville River Game Lands area. These places are open (to varying degrees) for camping, hiking, birding, fishing and hunting. In other words, they now belong to the people of North Carolina.

Back in my old stomping grounds at the coast, I am grateful for the efforts of the folks who work so diligently at the North Carolina Coastal Federation and North Carolina Coastal Land Trust. It is because of them that I have so many fond memories of birdwatching, hunting and fishing in the White Oak River Basin.

If the idea of giving to a land trust or conservancy still makes you queasy and mistrustful (get over it, do some homework and quit relying on what your buddies are saying) this golden opportunity to conserve also applies to sportsmen's favorites like Trout Unlimited, Ducks Unlimited and the Mule Deer Foundation

The reason I got up on this soapbox today is a result of my recent trip to Boston. In three days on the North Shore I got to see what has happened to my native state - vast stretches of high-density housing with hardly a tree or a blade of grass in relief. Flying in and out of Logan Airport, I could see the harbor islands jammed with human habitation. There is no land to conserve. There is no wildlife to protect. Now I am a citizen of one of the fastest-growing states in the union and I'm afraid, afraid the places I love won't exist in the future for my nephews to hunt and fish and just ramble across the countryside. Maybe I'm being overly dramatic, but maybe I'm not.




  1. For what it's worth, I doubt that you are. Very nice write-up of what we're facing and why it's so important to give what you can, when you can. I'm big on "people" causes, but I'm also big on conservation efforts. Many of the groups you mentioned could not only use our money, but also our time and maybe even a rolled up sleeve every now and again. Thanks for spotlighting the need, and the links where people can help.

  2. Volunteerism is a way everyone can help out. I wish I'd have thought of that when I was writing this post. Thanks Owl.