Winston Churchill once said, “Americans will always do the right thing – after they’ve exhausted all the alternatives.” For Great Lakes Radio Consortium commentator Tom Springer, Churchill’s wisdom could also apply to land trusts. After decades of rampant sprawl, more Americans are joining land trusts to protect what’s left of the natural areas around them:
Winston Churchill once said, “Americans will always do the right thing — after they’ve exhausted
all the alternatives.” For Great Lakes Radio Consortium commentator Tom Springer, Churchill’s
wisdom could also apply to land trusts. After decades of rampant sprawl, more Americans are
joining land trusts to protect what’s left of the natural areas around them:
Like many people who love nature, it’s always been my dream to save wild land from development. When I was younger, it seemed like an easy thing to do. I planned to graduate from college, earn serious money, and spend most of my income buying rural real estate. Unfortunately, the big salary never materialized. After five years, I had bought just one piece of property: a three-acre parcel of woods that can only be reached by canoe.
Since going solo didn’t work, I decided to join a national organization that’s famous for saving wild land. With my annual dues, I got a static window sticker and a gorgeous magazine that featured the group’s newest preserves. But after a few years, the vicarious thrill of sending money to save far-off places started to fade. I really wanted to protect land that was close to home. Yet for this organization, my corner of southern Michigan wasn’t even on the map.
At long last, I have found a better way to stave off the bulldozers. Along with 1,000 local citizens, I’m an active member of a land trust. Land trusts are nonprofit organizations that work with private property owners to save natural areas from development. Sometimes they buy land to create preserves. They also accept donated land, and establish conservation easements to prevent future development.
In the past decade, the land trust movement has seen phenomenal growth. There are 1,300 land trusts nationwide, a number that’s more than doubled since 1990. Together, they protect 6.4 million acres — up 220 percent since 1990.
So why are land truth trusts so successful? I believe it’s because their mission is unabashedly local. They’re not preoccupied with Chinese panda bears, or holes in the Arctic ozone layer. They’d rather rescue the 100-acre woods down the road. Or protect a suburban stream that’s the last neighborhood refuge for tadpoles and snapping turtles.
In our capitalistic system, land is a commodity. Yet land trusts use the free-market to their advantage by purchasing land to prevent development. So this business-like approach also appeals to conservatives and moderates who may not otherwise support environmental causes.
Yet another appeal of land trusts is their hands-on, dirty-fingernails approach to conservation. There’s always much more for members to do than just stick a check in the mail. Land trusts rely almost solely on volunteers to maintain trails, conduct field surveys, or stuff envelopes around the office.
A few weeks ago, my land trust hosted a workday at a five-acre preserve that’s a mile from my home. For three hours, I joined a happy band of retirees, college kids, and recovering yuppies as they uprooted Japanese honeysuckle that threatens to crowd out native wildflowers.
This preserve is too small for any government agency to bother with. Yet we know it as a pocket wilderness, where cardinal flowers and bluebells bloom in the rich soil of a floodplain forest. Maybe it’s not one of the world’s last great places. But it’s our place — and it’s our land trust. And if we want to save the natural world, our own neighborhood is always a good place to start.
Host Tag: Tom Springer is a freelance writer
from Three Rivers, Michigan.