America the Beautiful

Thank you very much. This erudite and eloquent panel consists of people who have accomplished and are accomplishing extraordinary and amazing acts of rescue in land and water conservation and restoration of ecosystems all over our America the Beautiful. I’m so glad that we are all here to share in this discussion and to hear what we can do to help with this process.

We have just heard that the Texas landscape in some ways has improved. Well, we can help keep that improvement going, and a big tool in that process is the conservation easement. To my left is Pat Noonan, the supercharged chairman of the Conservation Fund, an organization that has now saved some three and a half million acres and a mastermind of the conservation easement.

Next is William DeBuys, an elusive and evocative writer about water issues in the West and a builder of innovative coalitions to preserve land.

Melinda Taylor, a keen-minded attorney who is the program manager of Ecosystem Restoration for Environmental Defense.

And Larry Selzer, the mastermind who trains the people in the complex business of structuring land conservation transactions and heads Sustainable Programs for the Conservation Fund.

Their feats of creativity and innovation are more often than not worked out at the grassroots level. The power of these coalitions—the rancher with the environmentalist, the local land trust with city and county officials, and advocacy groups such as the Conservation Fund and the American Farmland Trust with the federal government have made phenomenal progress, as you soon will hear.

These new coalitions have worked over the years out of a critical need to solve--at a local level--water and land problems brought on by increasing populations, increased demand on resources, and climate changes. And you would be surprised at who has joined forces with whom in this problem-solving mode.

Remember the musical Oklahoma? Indeed, the cowboy and the farmer can be friends. A recent story in the New York Times on these confederations quoted a Colorado rancher as saying, “When you have a place like this, you want to honor and celebrate it. Landscapes have memories.”

In order to protect open space and wildlife habitat, many communities have gone so far as to dedicate local taxes to support conservation easements. In these days of threat and uncertainty, we have turned to our love of country, of family and friends, and of our freedom as core values, our pride in the value and valor of our fellow Americans.

It's not surprising that our hearts and minds have turned to thinking about what we value most. And high on that list are still our purple mountains, fruited plains, and shining seas. In this time of change, these icons remain unchanged and profoundly comforting.

As a country, we have a traditional reverence for our land, for clean air and clean water. These are part of our value system and key elements for which we are willing to do battle.

If you add up all the people across the country who work on regional and local land trusts--and there are over 1,400 land trusts across this country, environmental advocacy groups such as Environmental Defense, groups that support federal lands such as the National Parks Conservation Association--you are talking about, at the very least, some nine million people. Now, that's a whole lot of grassroots. And a whole lot of political clout.

They are nationwide. These are not little old ladies in tennis shoes. They are from different political parties, religions, colors, genders, and a whole lot of them are young, dedicated, and smart. In other words, this is a serious and forward-thinking grassroots power to be treated with respect, not only for their political power but for their commitment to the health and beauty of their country.

Mrs. Johnson comes to mind here, and I'd like to thank her for her vision and determination, which gave this movement nationwide scope and depth. Her leadership has been and is still key to so many of the alliances we are forging today. She has always been a role model for us, both in and out of the White House.

So with these thoughts in our mind, let's begin our discussion of how to protect our country here at home, truly a part of our own grassroots homeland security.

Robert Breunig spoke of the danger of seeing the land just as a commodity. He's right. When we begin to see us humans as part of a web, a schema, not just as a stand-alone entity, we stop seeing a commodity and start seeing a mutual support system. Our perspective then shifts from quick profit to long-term profit and from instant gratification to gratifying husbandry.

What I'd like to do is outline a few rules of engagement, as it were: each panelist will speak for approximately 15 minutes and then we will have either a brief roundtable or discussions with all of you.

Let's start off with Bill DeBuys. Bill begins his book Salt Dreams with the statement that America is the only country with a national dream. That probably explains why we are all here today. Bill has his own dreams--one has become incarnate in the form of the Conservation Fund’s Valle Grande Grass Bank, and another in the Valles Caldera Natural Preserve in New Mexico. It is a beautiful place on a high plain with petrographs scratched into the rocks, and it represents an experiment in which ranchers and environmentalists are now all partners in preserving the integrity of that land for grazing. Bill is now going to tell us about a cooperative and comprehensive management plan for almost 100,000 acres of ranchland that would otherwise see its stark beauty leached away over the years, bulldozer by bulldozer.