Property Rights Foundation of America®
Founded 1994

Letter to the Editor

by Joshua Reichert, Director
Environment Program
The Pew Charitable Trusts
Philadelphia, Penn

Agri-News
May 11, 2001

Innuendo and misstatement...

Your 4/13 issue carried a reprint of an article from InsightMag.com suggesting that conservation easements are all "connected with" a grand conspiracy called The Wildlands Project (TWP). The article is incorrect and misleading in several respects.

First, it mistakenly states that The Pew Charitable Trusts provides financial support to TWP. We do not.

Second, the article badly misrepresents The Wildlands Project, going so far as to direct readers to a fake website established for the sole purpose of discrediting the project. TWP's official website is www.twp.org.

Third, and most importantly, the article unfairly maligns a time-honored, free-market based conservation tool—easements—that mainstream groups have used for decades to protect critical wildlife habitat.

One of the important roles of The Wildlands Project is to encourage us to think and debate the impact of changes which development has brought to the fish and wildlife resources that make the Rocky Mountain West so special. The InsightMag.com article presents a distorted view of the project, suggesting that it is the work of a "convicted eco-terrorist" rather than respected scientists; that it has "big money" and "major corporations" behind it, when in fact it operates on a church-sized budget with limited foundation or corporate support; and that it seeks to take private property "by regulatory decree and eminent domain," which is not only untrue but not possible.

But perhaps the most inaccurate part of this article is its characterization of conservation easements as some plot by land trust organizations to enrich themselves. This is absolutely untrue. Conservation easements are voluntary, binding contractual agreements, sold by one party to another, that provide fair market value to private landowners in return for agreeing to not develop portions of their property in ways that will reduce or undermine its ecological value. For example, in Maine a large timber company recently sold the rights to subdivide timberland, but retained the right to keep logging those lands in perpetuity. Closer to home, the government recently used conservation easements as part of a mechanism to protect bison winter range on the former Church Universal Triumphant ranch near Yellowstone.

Far from being a "con," as the article calls them, these agreements provide more certainty and protection for both parties than any other conservation tool. That's why venerable, mainstream conservation groups like Ducks Unlimited, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, the Conservation Fund, and The Nature Conservancy rely heavily on easements in their work. For decades these organizations have used conservation easements to protect tens of millions of acres of critical fish and game habitat areas on private land by working collaboratively with landowners.

Rather than be alarmed, we should celebrate the fact that The Wildlands Project and many other conservation organizations rely on this voluntary tool that has proven to be such a benefit to landowners and the environment in order to assure that future generations will share the natural bounties we enjoy today.

Finally, in the future, we recommend that Agri-News check the accuracy of articles that it is considering reprinting from other publications so as to ensure that its readers get information that is based in fact rather than innuendo and misstatement.

Reprinted by permission of Agri-News. Agri-News, an Ag paper out of Billings, Montana, is packed with news and offers a free six-month subscription. Call (406) 259-5406.

This is part of a trio of articles on Wildlands and conservation easements.
See also:
"Pew took a public misstep"
"Wildlands and Conservation Easements-The Connection Between 'Em"

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