Archive for the ‘Conservation’ Category

WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (December 19-25, 2011)

Monday, December 26th, 2011

ENVIRONMENT & CONSERVATION

L.A. Audubon Society booted from its park perch; After decades of operating in West Hollywood’s Plummer Park, the group has been evicted as part of a controversial $41-million park renovation.” By Hailey Branson-Potts. Los Angeles Times. December 20, 2011. After decades of operating in West Hollywood’s Plummer Park, the Los Angeles Audubon Society has been evicted as part of a controversial $41-million park renovation. Los Angeles Audubon for years has had an office and bookstore in the Great Hall/Long Hall building, a community center built by the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression. Now it’s all slated to be bulldozed to clear the way for added green space. Los Angeles Audubon is now looking for a new headquarters, and employees — including two full-time staffers — are working out of their homes, said Travis Longcore, the group’s president. The group’s library has been packed up and put in storage. “It’s certainly been a blow to our chapter and the historic role of our chapter,” Longcore said. “It’s hard to come to grips with the fact that the Los Angeles Audubon is without a place.” Los Angeles Audubon has been operating out of the park since 1937 and has kept its headquarters in the park since the 1940s, according to the Western Tanager, the society’s newsletter. The group, which has more than 2,100 members, still holds its regular meetings and evening programs at the park and elsewhere.

WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (November 28-December 4, 2011)

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

ENVIRONMENT & CONSERVATION

Francis H. Cabot, 86, Dies; Created Notable Gardens.” By Margalit Fox. New York Times. November 27, 2011. Francis H. Cabot, a financier and self-taught horticulturalist who created two of the most celebrated gardens in North America and helped preserve scores of others, died on Nov. 19 at his home in La Malbaie, Quebec. He was 86. In 1989, Mr. Cabot founded the Garden Conservancy, a nonprofit organization based in Cold Spring, N.Y., that works to preserve America’s most extraordinary private gardens. A son of the New York branch of one of Boston’s storied families, Francis Higginson Cabot Jr., familiarly known as Frank, was born in Manhattan on Aug. 6, 1925. After serving with the Army occupation forces in Japan at the end of World War II, he received a bachelor’s degree from Harvard in 1949. Mr. Cabot began his career as an executive assistant at Stone & Webster, the engineering and investment banking company of which his father was a vice president. He became a partner at Train, Cabot & Associates, an investment and venture capital concern, in 1959. He became a gardener, he said afterward, to relieve the pressures of venture capitalism. In the late 1980s Mr. Cabot, by then a consummate plantsman, visited Ruth Bancroft, renowned in horticultural circles for the “dry garden” — thousands of cactuses, succulents and shrubs — she began in the 1950s on her property in Walnut Creek, Calif. By the time of his visit, Mrs. Bancroft was in her early 80s. Worried that her garden would die with her, Mr. Cabot founded the Garden Conservancy. To date, the organization has helped preserve more than 90 gardens.

WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (November 21-27, 2011)

Thursday, December 1st, 2011

ENVIRONMENT & CONSERVATION

Stringing Up Gibson Guitar; Environmentalists and trade protectionists set a trap for American businesses.” By Kimberley A. Strassel. Wall Street Journal. November 25, 2011. The story here is about how a toxic alliance of ideological activists and trade protectionists deliberately set about creating a vague law, one designed to make an example out of companies (like Gibson) and thus chill imports—even legal ones. The Lacey Act was passed in 1900 to stop trade in illegal wild game. Over the years it has expanded, and today it encompasses a range of endangered species. It requires American businesses to follow both U.S. and foreign law, though with most Lacey goods, this has been relatively clear. Think elephant tusks, tiger pelts or tropical birds. That changed in 2007, when an alliance of environmentalists, labor unions and industry groups began pushing for Lacey to cover “plant and plant products” and related items. Congress had previously resisted such a broad definition for the simple reason that it would encompass timber products. Trees are ubiquitous, are transformed into thousands of byproducts, and pass through dozens of countries. Whereas even a small U.S. importer would know not to import a tiger skin, tracking a sliver of wood (now transformed into a toy, or an umbrella) through this maze of countries and manufacturing laws back to the tree it came from, would be impossible. Which is exactly what the Lacey expanders wanted. The drive was headed up by a murky British green outfit called the Environmental Investigation Agency. The EIA is anti-logging, and, like most environmental groups, understands that the best way to force developing countries to “preserve” their natural resources is to dry up the market for their products. They would prefer that wood be sourced from the U.S. and Europe, where green groups have more influence over rules. The EIA was joined by labor unions such as the Teamsters and industry groups such as the American Forest and Paper Association. As Mark Barford of the Memphis-based National Hardwood Lumber Association told one news outlet: “We need the protection of the Lacey Act. . . . Our small, little companies cannot compete with artificially low prices from wood that comes in illegally. . . . This is our Jobs Act.”

WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (November 14-20, 2011)

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011

ENVIRONMENT & CONSERVATION

A Dude Ranch Rests Hopes on a Rockefeller Deal.” By Kirk Johnson. New York Times. November 18, 2011. — John D. Rockefeller Jr. fell in love with the West here, and left his fingerprints all over the place. Beginning in the 1920s, a company disguised as a hunting club but fueled by Mr. Rockefeller’s millions quietly bought tens of thousands of acres with the goal of conserving and preserving a staggeringly beautiful corner of western Wyoming, a process that culminated in 1950 with an act by Congress incorporating Grand Teton National Park. Now a federal lawsuit, ostensibly over the concession contract for a historic dude ranch operating in the park, is resurrecting old questions about the Rockefeller legacy and the unique creation story of a place that historians say was very much shaped around one man’s vision. The patchwork of deals, promises and betrayals that was formed in making Grand Teton — hugely controversial a few generations ago, after the secret land acquisitions became public — have resurfaced. Old ways of doing business in the West, with a handshake and a nod, have bumped against the modern mantra of competition, efficiency and markets. At the center of the dispute is a family called the Turners, who have hosted legions of dudes — a term, at least here, owing nothing to hipsters — for five generations at a place called the Triangle X Ranch. The Turners began a guest and guide services operation on the wilderness site in 1926, during the golden age of dude ranching, before the advent of motels, car camping and Interstate highways. The Triangle X is the last dude ranch concession inside any United States national park, according to the Dude Ranchers’ Association, a trade group. In September, the National Park Service, citing a 1998 federal law requiring competition for business concessions in the parks, finally threw open the contract for running the Triangle X Ranch to bidding. Until then, the family had been granted extensions of its previous contract. The family, led by John F. Turner, the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the administration of the elder President George Bush, fired back last month with a lawsuit in Federal District Court in Cheyenne. The suit accuses the Park Service of violating contractual promises first made by Mr. Rockefeller’s land agents in 1929 when the family sold the Triangle X property to Mr. Rockefeller’s Snake River Land Company — promises that the suit says were made concrete and inviolate in the 1950 act of park incorporation. “We had no choice but to stand up for a family legacy of 85 years,” Mr. Turner said.

Brune new chairman at Sierra Club.” By Dan Berman and Darren Samuelsohn. Politico.com. November 18, 2011. Carl Pope will resign next month as chairman of the Sierra Club after 17 years, to be replaced by Executive Director Michael Brune. The move comes as the environmental lobby recovers from last year’s death of climate legislation on Capitol Hill and the GOP takeover of the House. Greens have even split at times from President Barack Obama, most recently threatening to abandon the president’s 2012 presidential campaign if the Keystone XL pipeline was approved. Brune downplayed the change in leadership, framing it as a lengthy transition that began when he joined the organization as executive director in 2010. “This announcement doesn’t come amid discontent or division,” Brune told POLITICO, noting Pope has been making plans to give up the top job since January 2009. “It’s the end of a process that’s been a long time coming.” Jack Darin, director of the Sierra Club’s Illinois chapter, said the group has seen big changes over the last two years. “But I don’t think it’s primarily as a result of the change in leadership. I think there’s an intensified interest in moving beyond fossil fuels, oil and coal, but I think that trend was headed that way before Carl left.” Brune “feels fully like he’s got his legs under him. We’re off charging,” Darin said. Darin added he didn’t expect the Sierra Club to incorporate the kinds of direct action protests that Brune was known for at the Rainforest Action Network. After all, the Sierra Club’s charter states that the club won’t practice civil disobedience. But Brune has already taken a stronger line with the Obama White House, always a difficult dance for environmental groups who spent eight years fighting George W. Bush tooth and nail.
Related story:
“Sierra Club leader departs amid discontent over group’s direction; Sierra Club Chairman Carl Pope, whose leadership has stirred dissent, steps down. Some believe the organization has compromised its core principles.” By Louis Sahagun. Los Angeles Times. November 19, 2011.

WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (10/31-11/6/11)

Thursday, November 10th, 2011

ENVIRONMENT & CONSERVATION

For 1000 Friends of Oregon, land-use legacy is a flame that needs tending.” By Eric Mortenson. The Oregonian. November 04, 2011. For the land-use group 1000 Friends of Oregon, which traces its lineage to the revered Gov. Tom McCall, these are strange days. A new generation of Oregonians knows the state has largely prevented sprawl and preserved its farms and forests, but doesn’t have a clue how that happened. Property rights zealots get away with calling them “1000 Fiends of Oregon.” And in economically-depressed rural Oregon, Executive Director Jason Miner acknowledges with a thin smile, 1000 Friends is not seen as a “helper.” “It’s very much our job,” he says, “to change that conversation.” The ideas are intended to bring about healthy, vibrant communities, cultivate a new generation of land-use leaders and assure continued protection of farmland. The latter initiative, called the “New Face of Farming,” began in October with a gathering in Redmond. Other meetings with farmers will be in Eugene, Corvallis, Hood River, Portland, Harney County and southern Oregon. The farm meetings reflect 1000 Friends’ redefined perspective. When the group formed in 1974, it focused on protecting large blocks of commodity crops outside of cities. But Oregon agriculture has diversified and now includes many small-acreage farms. Some farmers offer “agri-tainment” activities — wine tastings, bed and breakfast stays, weddings, corn mazes — as a way to make money and support their more traditional operations. To 1000 Friends, the state’s challenge is to allow limited commercial activity without violating the spirit of exclusive farm use zoning. The organization itself may have to give a little to accommodate changes that keep agriculture economically viable and thus reduce the pressure to develop farmland.

WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (10/31-11/6/11)

Thursday, November 10th, 2011

ENVIRONMENT & CONSERVATION

Most City Parks Earn Solid Marks, With Some Lagging.” By Lisa W. Foderaro. New York Times. October 30, 2011. On their new report cards, New York City’s large parks turn out to be solid performers, earning a respectable B average. The grades, to be given out on Monday in a new study from New Yorkers for Parks, an independent advocacy group, nevertheless show some room for improvement, including the maintenance of drinking fountains and lawns. The group, in its first assessment of large park properties, looked at 45 parks, from 20 to 500 acres, in all five boroughs. Within each borough, however, there were sometimes jarring disparities in park quality. New Yorkers for Parks said that the biggest factor in those discrepancies was not differing income levels around the parks or a conservancy group with fund-raising muscle, but the ability to turn out volunteers to care for a park. In Harlem, for instance, Morningside Park, whose 30 acres stretch from West 110th to 123rd Streets, scored an 89, earning praise in particular for its well-maintained pathways, playgrounds and courts. Not far away, the 20-acre Marcus Garvey Park, at Madison Avenue and 120th Street, received a 69, with points deducted for broken benches and remote paths flecked with condoms and syringes. Morningside Park has a particularly strong “friends” group, with more than 100 industrious volunteers. Friends of Morningside Park, which celebrated its 30th anniversary last week, raised a modest $23,000 last year. But it organized more than a dozen events this year in which local residents turned out to plant bulbs and perform other chores. New Yorkers for Parks said that if one thread ran through the most successful parks it was just such a volunteer network. “It’s really human hands and labor,” said Alyson Beha, director of research, planning and policy for New Yorkers for Parks. “What we can tell for the most part is that parks with active volunteer groups have overall better maintenance than ones without.”

WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (October 24-30, 2011)

Monday, October 31st, 2011

ENVIRONMENT & CONSERVATION

Preservation, not profit, takes precedence at Big Horn Mine in the San Gabriels; The mine, perched on Mt. Baden-Powell, still holds an estimated 262,000 ounces of gold. It’s also a refuge for wildlife — and soon it will be transferred to the U.S. Forest Service.” By Louis Sahagun. Los Angeles Times. October 22, 2011. The Big Horn Mine, perched on a mountainside overlooking the headwaters of the San Gabriel River, still holds an estimated 262,000 ounces of gold in its quartz bedrock. At current prices, that haul would be worth more than $430 million. The wild country surrounding the mine, framed by alpine peaks and watered by snowmelt running through wrinkled canyons and ancient pine forests, is a refuge for bears, mountain lions and endangered Nelson’s bighorn sheep. Within a few days, preservation will trump economics when the 277-acre parcel is handed over to the public. The transfer of title to the U.S. Forest Service will cap six years of arduous negotiations by the nonprofit Wilderness Land Trust, which acquires unprotected private land and returns it to the people. And, trust president Reid Haughey reported with a hint of satisfaction, taxpayers got this slice of paradise for a bargain price: $2 million. “At 277 acres, this is a relatively small transaction,” he said, standing knee-deep in sage and prickly yuccas on a promontory near the mine’s long-abandoned ore mill. “But the value of adding it to the surrounding wilderness for future generations is significant.” The mine on the eastern flank of 9,399-foot Mt. Baden-Powell was first prospected in 1859. In its heyday in the 1930s, Big Horn Mine supported a community of cabins, machine shops and a post office serving the 30 workers who operated its steam-powered rock crushers and trucked ore down the mountain for processing. Permits to mine gold were valid until just a few years before the land trust — with $125,000 in private donations and a long-term loan of $825,000 — bought the property from a private mining company in 2007. It was ultimately sold to the Forest Service for $2 million. “We moved quickly to prevent the land from being marketed for its mineral resources and potential as a mountain retreat,” Haughey said. “When we bought the mine, gold was selling for $350 an ounce. Today, it sells for about five times that much.”

Record $20 Million Gift to Help Finish the High Line Park.” By Lisa W. Foderero. New York Times. October 26, 2011. Many visitors to the High Line, the popular park that wends above street level on the West Side of Manhattan, stop at its northern terminus and peer wistfully through a chain-link fence at the as-yet unreclaimed half-mile segment to the north. Until this week, the nonprofit conservancy that operates the High Line still needed to raise $85 million to finish the park and maintain it. On Wednesday night, the conservancy took a major step toward that goal when Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced a $20 million gift to the High Line from the Diller-von Furstenberg Family Foundation. The gift, which will help build up the park’s endowment and pay for the design of the last section, is the single largest donation ever made to a New York City park, according to city officials. It follows two previous donations totaling $15 million to the High Line from Barry Diller, chairman of IAC and Expedia, and his wife, the designer Diane von FurstenbergThe High Line is an unusual public-private partnership. The city paid most of the construction costs of the first two sections (the second opened earlier this year), which together run from Gansevoort to 30th Streets. But Friends of the High Line, the conservancy that rallied to save the railway from demolition and raised money for its transformation into a park, assumed full responsibility for the cost of the operations from the start. With three million annual visitors, 10 times what the founders of the conservancy initially envisioned, wear and tear, as well as educational programming, is a constant challenge for the 60-member staff. Annual operating costs for the park come to $3 million.

WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (October 17-23, 2011)

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

ENVIRONMENT & CONSERVATION

Preservation, not profit, takes precedence at Big Horn Mine in the San Gabriels The mine, perched on Mt. Baden-Powell, still holds an estimated 262,000 ounces of gold. It’s also a refuge for wildlife — and soon it will be transferred to the U.S. Forest Service.” By Louis Sahagun. Los Angeles Times. October 22, 2011. The Big Horn Mine, perched on a mountainside overlooking the headwaters of the San Gabriel River, still holds an estimated 262,000 ounces of gold in its quartz bedrock. At current prices, that haul would be worth more than $430 million. The wild country surrounding the mine, framed by alpine peaks and watered by snowmelt running through wrinkled canyons and ancient pine forests, is a refuge for bears, mountain lions and endangered Nelson’s bighorn sheep. Within a few days, preservation will trump economics when the 277-acre parcel is handed over to the public. The transfer of title to the U.S. Forest Service will cap six years of arduous negotiations by the nonprofit Wilderness Land Trust, which acquires unprotected private land and returns it to the people. And, trust president Reid Haughey reported with a hint of satisfaction, taxpayers got this slice of paradise for a bargain price: $2 million. “At 277 acres, this is a relatively small transaction,” he said, standing knee-deep in sage and prickly yuccas on a promontory near the mine’s long-abandoned ore mill. “But the value of adding it to the surrounding wilderness for future generations is significant.”

WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (October 9-16, 2011)

Monday, October 10th, 2011

ENVIRONMENT & CONSERVATION

When the Uprooted Put Down Roots.” By Patricia Leigh Brown. New York Times. October 9, 2011. At the Saturday farmer’s market in City Heights, a major portal for refugees, Khadija Musame, a Somali, arranges her freshly picked pumpkin leaves and lablab beans amid a United Nations of produce, including water spinach grown by a Cambodian refugee and amaranth, a grain harvested by Sarah Salie, who fled rebels in Liberia. Eaten with a touch of lemon by Africans, and coveted by Southeast Asians for soups, this crop is always a sell-out. Among the regular customers at the New Roots farm stand are Congolese women in flowing dresses, Somali Muslims in headscarves, Latino men wearing broad-brimmed hats and Burundian mothers in brightly patterned textiles who walk home balancing boxes of produce on their heads. New Roots, with 85 growers from 12 countries, is one of more than 50 community farms dedicated to refugee agriculture, an entrepreneurial movement spreading across the country. American agriculture has historically been forged by newcomers, like the Scandinavians who helped settle the Great Plains; today’s growers are more likely to be rural subsistence farmers from Africa and Asia, resettled in and around cities from New York, Burlington, Vt., and Lowell, Mass., to Minneapolis, Phoenix and San Diego. With language and cultural hurdles, and the need to gain access to land, financing and marketing, farm ownership for refugees can be very difficult. Programs like New Roots, which provide training in soil, irrigation techniques and climate, “help refugees make the leap from community gardens to independent farms,” said Hugh Joseph, an assistant professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition at Tufts, which advises 28 “incubator” farms representing hundreds of small-scale producers.

Privately Owned Park, Open to the Public, May Make Its Own Rules.” By Lisa W. Foderaro. New York Times. October 13, 2011. Zuccotti Park, the half-acre plaza in Lower Manhattan now synonymous with Occupy Wall Street, exists in a strange category of New York parkland, identified by a seeming oxymoron: a privately owned public space. The park was established in a wave of development that spurred corporate plazas after changes were made to the city’s zoning laws in the early 1960s. The laws generally give real estate developers zoning concessions in exchange for public space. There are now at least 520 such parks, arcades and plazas in New York City, both indoors and out, providing a total of 3.5 million square feet of space. Zuccotti is unusual in that it does not adjoin the 54-story office tower, 1 Liberty Plaza, that spawned it. Rather, it is bounded on all four sides by streets: Broadway, Trinity Place, and Cedar and Liberty Streets. And while the developer did not win the right to build a larger structure in exchange for the park, it was given leeway on certain height and setback restrictions, according to Jerold S. Kayden, a lawyer and professor of urban planning and design at Harvard University. Perhaps most important, from the perspective of a long-term protest like Occupy Wall Street, Zuccotti Park — unlike city-owned parks — is open 24 hours a day. Private parks and plazas that were developed under the original zoning rules governing them are generally open around the clock, while those created under more recent rules may close from dusk to dawn. About half of the privately owned plazas are required to be open 24 hours a day, according to the Department of City Planning. By contrast, the city’s parks all have curfews: the latest is 1 a.m.; a number close much earlier. All playgrounds close at dusk, and some parks in Queens have curfews as early as 9 p.m. So an encampment like the one at Zuccotti Park would be impossible in a city park, where structures like tents are prohibited without a permit. “The city had a policy for encouraging commercial developers to create open space in exchange for more height,” said Mitchell L. Moss, a professor of urban policy and planning at New York University. “But until now, no one has thought about the issue of what the rules are. This has highlighted one of the gaps in New York’s planning system.”

Park Rules Scrutinized.” By Eliot Brown. Wall Street Journal. October 15, 2011. Casting a wary eye on the four-week-old Occupy Wall Street encampment, a group representing some of the city’s most influential landlords plans to ask the city to revamp the rules governing privately owned parks, including removing a requirement that they be open 24 hours a day. “We’re going to be clearly recommending to the city that there need to be some changes,” Steven Spinola, president of the Real Estate Board of New York, said Friday. “If you can say that the plazas are closed between 1 and 5 a.m., I’m not sure who that’s harming.” REBNY has yet to draw up specifics. But the effort signals a growing concern in some of the city’s most powerful circles that there is no clear path to ending the protest in Zuccotti Park. The park is one of more than 500 privately owned but public spaces that developers created in the city in exchange for building rights. It’s owned by Brookfield Office Properties Inc. but open around-the-clock to the public as long as visitors abide by the rules. It appeared that an eviction was imminent Friday after Brookfield said it would begin cleaning the park and allowing protesters to return only if they didn’t erect tents and sleep on the ground. But political pressure and criticism from protesters mounted on Brookfield, which faced calls to let the demonstrations continue. Hours before a showdown with the protesters and their allies was expected to take place, the landlord aborted the plan. Other landlords have watched the experience of Brookfield with trepidation. Citing health and liability concerns, many have privately worried whether such similar protests would be possible at their own plazas. The plazas are a common sight throughout Manhattan, a gift of city zoning rules that allow developers to build more office space if they also construct a public space.

WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (October 3-9, 2011)

Monday, October 10th, 2011

ENVIRONMENT & CONSERVATION

The Self-Sufficient Office Building.” By Bryn Nelson. New York Times. October 4, 2011. One of the most highly anticipated development projects in the Pacific Northwest is still little more than a grid of concrete and rebar at the edge of the Capitol Hill neighborhood here. When completed near the end of next year, though, the six-story office building may be the greenest commercial structure in the world. The building, the $30 million Bullitt Center at 1501 East Madison Street, is expected to set a new precedent for environmentally friendly design and construction and in doing so would reinforce Seattle’s reputation as a global leader in sustainable development. As the future home of the environmentally focused Bullitt Foundation and other like-minded tenants, the Bullitt Center is designed to produce as much electricity as it uses, making it both energy- and carbon-neutral. The building will supply and treat all of its own water, capturing rainwater in a 50,000-gallon underground cistern. And its construction will exclude items on a “red list” of hazardous materials like lead and cadmium, a stipulation that has required developers to compile a spreadsheet of 362 prohibited building components. If the Bullitt Center passes the self-sufficiency test after its first full year of occupancy, it will be certified as a “living building” by the International Living Future Institute, a group based in Seattle that has established a green building standard, called the Living Building Challenge, widely viewed as the world’s toughest. “The story is that this building is pushing the boundaries of performance in all categories, not just in one or two,” said Jason McLennan, the chief executive of both the certifying institute and the Cascadia Green Building Council, a chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council that administers the better-known LEED rating system. “For this building type and this scale, it’s the first in the world to go this far.” Denis Hayes, the president and chief executive of the Bullitt Foundation and a national coordinator of the first Earth Day in 1970, said his foundation’s future home had benefited from an integrated design process involving architects, engineers, developers and contractors.