Proposal to Land Trust Alliance submitted by Center for Whole Communities “Levers for Innovation” June 2012
State of the land trust movement: In many respects, the land trust movement – for which the Land Trust Alliance is a national representative – is stronger than ever. In just 35 years, the land trust movement in the United States of America has grown from a dozen land trusts to 1,700 with 12,000 staff, 15,000 board members and 5 million members. Together, these land trusts and their national partners have generated the tools, resources and political strength to conserve more than 47 million acres, 10 million of which were added in just the last five years. According to the most recent national census (2010), state and local land trusts have also more than doubled the amount of funding they have dedicated to monitoring, stewardship and legal defense of those lands. In the same time, they have also nearly tripled their operating endowments. This pioneering generation of land trust leaders has achieved so much. Generally speaking, that generation is comprised of women and men in their fifties, sixties and seventies: financially well-resourced, white, legalistic, professionals with advanced college degrees, and nearing retirement. In this era of hard-earned successes the political, economic and cultural landscape is rapidly changing and as a result new challenges and vulnerabilities are emerging. Some of these arise from the very success of the movement itself. For example, when conservationists control 20% of a state’s landmass, as they do in Maine and several other states, it’s no longer feasible to assume that transportation, poverty, food security or how your neighbors will heat their homes is not your concern. The more you succeed, all those things that you might think lie beyond your mission statement become more closely connected to you. Success creates the expectation of public citizenship, which is the responsibility and commitment to think about and act upon issues that impact the community you serve. Another profound change challenging the pioneering generation of the land trust movement is that we are in the midst of the largest demographic shift in our country in 150 years. “2042” is the year when the latest census data predicts the country will be officially more than 50% people of color. Simply put, the America that is emerging right now is very different from the America of the 1980s when the majority of land trusts were formed. Lastly, every successful long-term human endeavor – such as a movement – requires re-invention in order to maintain its relevance in the face of changing culture and landscapes. Very often, the reinvention is not about changing mission but about evolving the way that mission is achieved. Often the re-invention comes about by adding new competencies, skills and leadership that more correctly meet the times and the evolving needs of the movement. Many land trust leaders, including the Land Trust Alliance itself, believe that the movement’s enormous strength at accomplishing policy wins – what is known as transactional strength – must now be matched with other competencies. We call this exciting moment in time for land trusts meeting transactional strength with relational strength. 1
It is very important to note that this need to re-invent is shared by all successful long-lived social, political and economic movements. And for these movements to succeed, the innovations must occur when the organizations themselves have the strength and resources to make the changes. 2042, the expectation for public citizenship, and the need to meet transactional strength with relational strength are significant challenges all arising at the same time for the land trust movement. Were it not for the resources and for the forward looking leadership of the Land Trust Alliance, this might otherwise be a perfect storm. We at Center for Whole Communities (CWC) and the Land Trust Alliance agree that these three challenges (2042, public citizenship, relational strength) point toward the imperative of a broader and deeper engagement with the American public. Five years ago, Alliance president Rand Wentworth called for “the conservation community to look more like America.” In 2012, the Alliance created this Draft Vision: Our vision is for land trusts to be respected civic organizations with widespread public support and a variety of authentic partnerships that reflect the diversity and demographics of a changing America. Land trust conservation work is seen as essential to advancing important community priorities like improving people’s health, providing clean water, safe food, and generating economic benefits, whether in urban or rural areas. Further, the Land Trust Alliance aspires for land trusts to become “more open, more humble” representatives of the communities they serve. To become better partners, and more relevant to communities across the country: doing “conservation that tangibly improves the lives of peoples and groups who have traditionally had lower-than-average access to parks, open space, public health, and healthy and affordable food”. The Land Trust Alliance has also spoken publicly about the political vulnerability of conservation if the broader American public is not engaged. The changeable winds of state and national politics, combined with what nine men and women sitting in the Supreme Court can change, have greatly evolved the belief that laws alone will not sustain conservation. Many conservationists and land trust leaders see “protected” land as being increasingly vulnerable to a public that doesn’t understand, doesn’t relate, perhaps doesn’t care and, in the future, might ask for something different. To endure and evolve, conservation must be grounded not just in law, but in the hearts, minds, and everyday choices of diverse people. That means that those who love land and nature need to build up their capacity to fully engage people. All people. Indeed, Rand Wentworth writes, “In the end, our future depends on each generation loving the land enough to fight for its protection all over again.” State of the nation: Three powerful cultural shifts, urbanization, increasing diversity, and complexity, have emerged over the last 25 years to significantly challenge the existing and future leadership of the land trust movement. These three forces are now firmly established in our American culture and it’s a matter of land trusts adapting to them or not. Urbanization The contemporary land trust movement got its start in Eastern United States largely from young city folks moving out to the country (many inspired by the “back to the land movement” of the 1970s) and who found that conservation commissions and local government were unable or unwilling to 2
adequately respond to land development pressures by protecting that land. Ironically, many of these folks were part of the population exodus that was creating the pressures on the land in the first place, and they were using their “enlightened self-interest” to maintain the qualities of life that drew them out of the cities in the first place. Generally speaking, land trusts were created by an uneasy merger of interests between newcomers and old-timers in communities all across our nation. The growing American population created enormous pressure on landscapes outside of cities and spread those cities over much larger parts of the American landscape. Today, 80% of the American population lives in places that are no longer “country”; they live in exurbs, suburbs and sprawling development that we collectively call cities today. This is a much more complex environment for land trusts to operate. Increasing Diversity [of culture and concerns] The urbanization of our country has reshuffled communities and brought many types of diversity together: age, politics, gender, race, class, education backgrounds. And while that’s been happening, the country itself is shifting from dominant white to dominant people of color. For example, in 2012, 40% of all Americans under the age of 24 are people of color. By 2042, every metropolitan statistical area in the United States will be dominant people of color. These demographic changes should be celebrated for many reasons, including that people of color may be stronger supporters of conservation and are more willing to spend their tax dollars on these issues than are white voters.1 But for the pioneering generation of conservationists, adaptation to this new reality means the very difficult leadership act of sharing power and influence with the emerging majority so that an inclusive vision might emerge that holds the voice and has the support of far more community members. It is important to mention that while race must be a central focus in developing inclusive conservation in America, it is not our sole concern. It is no less important for land trusts to develop the capacity to work across many other dimensions of diversity, particularly around age, gender and class. Many rural states will first experience significant demographic changes around age. Maine and Montana, for example, have the oldest median age populations, lowest birthrates and smallest numbers of residents under the age of 18. How will land trusts be relevant and help these states transition to a younger, and likely less homogenous population that wasn’t born there? How might conservation evolve to include more of this new American population? Without dramatic steps taken now to diversify a conservation movement that is overwhelmingly white and aging, who will support land conservation in America in 2042? Who will steward conservation lands? Who will defeat the growing number of cases of imminent domain takings of conservation lands? Today’s conservation leaders, men and women in their 40s, 50s and 60s, have very successfully faced one set of challenges, those about transactional strength: buying land, changing laws, and building institutions. Leadership skills required for the next generation are by equal measure relational: how will conservation be integrated – or not – into the needs and values of a changing American public?
October 6, 2009, Memo for David Metz, Fairbank, Maslin, Maulin & Associates and Lori Weigel, Public Opinion Strategies, re: Key Findings from National Voter Survey on Conservation Among Voters of Color.
Complexity The social fragmentation created by class, race, politics and privilege across America plays out in our nonprofit organizations and movements for change. Those who care about people and those who care about land, for example, are divided by isolated approaches, priorities and alliances. Working in isolation from one another has challenged the ability to creatively and holistically confront the complex issues facing our communities. These issues range from conservation to water scarcity, from urban development to food security, hunger, housing, and transportation. At the same time that our nation is becoming more diverse, the scale and complexity of problems facing our planet are growing more complex, requiring more integrated responses that can no longer be addressed by any one specialty. This framework describes how institutional structures have led to the fragmentation and isolation of different segments of the environmental movement, separating us from one another:
All of the concerns depicted in this framework are essential to healthy and whole communities, and none will succeed without the other. In a New York Times Op-ed (August 23, 2009), Thomas Friedman confirmed this when he wrote, “We’re trying to deal with a whole array of integrated problems – climate change, energy, biodiversity loss, poverty alleviation, and the need to grow enough food to feed the planet – separately. The poverty fighters resent the climate-change folks;
climate change folks hold summits without reference to biodiversity; the food advocates resist the biodiversity protectors.” The complexity of today’s cross-cutting challenges such as conservation, climate change and hunger make it impossible to adequately meet the scale of the problem from any one quadrant. For these reasons, today, those who care about land conservation and biodiversity will not make enduring progress without the support, strategic vision and partnership of those who care about Hurricane Katrina victims and urban water quality. How might land trusts learn to ally themselves with other groups working for social change? Land trusts have achieved a level of political, cultural and economic success to date that has, ironically, enabled them to move forward without a strong emphasis on community and diversity. For many years, land trusts have been in a privileged position, and now the ground is shifting increasingly fast. There is a wider, more dynamic and growing stakeholder base of people and interests to consider – including businesses, elected officials, farm workers, social justice leaders, affordable housing advocates, and many more. These constituencies have historically not been viewed as ‘base,’ ‘membership,’ or ‘potential supporters’ because of their economic or social status, age, religion or faith, as well as their focus on social issues that have not yet been seen as directly related to issues of conservation. Opportunity: Call to public citizenship
Urbanization Difference Complexity Actively engage the emerging realities of Urbanization, Increasing Diversity and Complexity.
Building relational strength
Re-invention Build capacity & skills to successfully respond to the call for public citizenship, develop relational strength, and re-invention.
Create the conditions to foster innovation that will allow the land trust movement to evolve itself and sustain its leadership role into the future.
This project Levers for Innovation seeks to identify the primary opportunities for the land trust movement to engage and be more relevant for more people: younger people, people of color, people of lesser financial means, people with different needs and expectations for the land. The Land Trust Alliance hopes to leverage its significant positional power to support a more inclusive, diverse, and representational movement in the United States, in which people from all walks of life appreciate and feel connected to the land. Importantly, the Alliance seeks to lead on these issues by “walking the talk”, by modeling behaviors and practices that support this vision, and to be held accountable to the same characteristics and expectations. This aspiration to create a more inclusive land movement for all people is the work of generations and generations of land trust leaders. It did not begin with this project, and it will not end here either. In fact, there have been calls for a more inclusive practice of conservation almost as soon as there was a land trust movement. The desire to serve all people is inherent in the best practices of land trust work, though often and increasingly overshadowed by other priorities. This is a return to our core values. 5
CWC will create the conditions for existing “community conservation” practitioners and potential allies in related fields to come together to share honest, candid perspectives, to think deeply together, and to arrive at practical suggestions for changes at individual, organizational and movement-wide levels that would be significant levers for change that, if pushed, would enable Land Trust Alliance to shift and model long-term change. In addition we will do targeted outreach through both webinars and a survey instrument to gather qualitative data to support the strategic decision making process. CWC will prepare an independent report on these practical levers for change and present it to the board of directors of the Land Trust Alliance at the end of 2012. A core part of the research will be four Listening Dialogues ( two of the longer format held reguionally, and two shorter format with specific constuenccy groups at Salt Lake City) that convene land trust practitioners with potential new allies to discover what it will take from them and from the Land Trust Alliance to walk together. Center for Whole Communities will develop a process design that reflects the values, relationships and results that this project hopes to achieve. Some ideas we expect to explore in this process: What do conservationists feel they will face in the next 25 years in service to their mission? What are we for today, and what kind of leadership will that require? What will it take to innovate in the future in the way they have in the past? Center for Whole Communities will take a strategic approach to mindfully identify the best regional host, convening sites, and process design. In these two listening dialogues, Center for Whole Communities will add value by connecting our conservation alumni, other conservationists clearly doing community conservation, and allies in related fields like community development to talk together about 1) what’s working really well today in the realm of inclusive conservation, 2) what would need to shift within individual organizations and their national trade association (Land Trust Alliance) to enable more inclusive conservation, 3) what are the levers for change at the organizational and movement-wide level that might open pathways for authentic change and forward momentum? Our experience around organizational behavior and working with difference is this: no organization can achieve in the community what it cannot achieve internally. To fully engage the diverse community outside requires that the Land Trust Alliance, and land trusts, first engage the diverse community inside their organizations. What internal work does this build upon? Land Trust Alliance previously (1999 – 2001) had a diversity committee that developed specific recommendations for action. However, these recommendations could not be implemented due to staff cuts and other priorities at that time. In early 2006, the Land Trust Alliance formed a Diversity Task Force with committee members recruited from the board, the land trust community, and diversity experts. The Task Force had a series of conference calls and a meeting at the National Land Conservation Conference in October 2006 to discuss the history of diversity in the land trust movement and opportunities to move forward with a national initiative. In 2007, the Diversity Task Force made a series of recommendations to the Board of the Land Trust Alliance. In 2012, the Board’s Program Committee prepared a draft “Community Conservation 6
Implementation Plan” that includes many recommendations, including the work suggested in this proposal. Key Lessons Already Absorbed This project will build upon work done over time and to do so, it will begin with some basic understandings or assumptions so that participants understand that we already grasp some of their issues and that were are interested in moving toward positive progress forward. There is a long and varied history of conservation attempting to engage a broader community without first understanding issues of the past and present which continue to foster a difficult relationship between the two. The roots of this tension between conservation and community are old, established long before the land trust movement but nonetheless part of the lineage of that movement. These tensions arise directly from the manner in which many of America’s protected lands and national parks were created by forcibly removing native people, poor people, and people of color. This research and listening process, therefore, does not begin at ground zero. It grows out from knowledge, experience and some assumptions and observations we put forward here. For this work to be able to begin and take root, these observations would need to be recognized by the Land Trust Alliance. Among them are: 1.
The majority of land trusts want to evolve their work to serve many more Americans.
There is a well of gratitude from many Americans for the work of land trusts and conservationists in creating protected land, ranging from national parks to community gardens.
There’s also a perception of elitism, that land trusts serve a limited segment of the population.
Healthy food is a significant potential “doorway issue” to bring land trust relevancy to many more Americans and to find many more collaborations. 23.5 million Americans lack access to a supermarket within one mile of their home. There are four times as many supermarkets in predominantly white neighborhoods compared to predominantly black neighborhoods. Land trusts own land where food could be grown and made accessible to many, many more Americans.
Some land trusts work in rural areas where diversity may be harder to see. The diversity present in predominantly white communities may be invisible and it may be denied. Denial is a common characteristic of dominant culture groups who insist that their communities don’t have difference because they do not see it, or that the “2042” changes won’t happen where they live and work. Therefore, the Land Trust Alliance must model leadership by constantly building “race consciousness” and helping others to see what’s been invisible.
The Land Trust Alliance’s emphasis on tax incentives may contribute to perceptions of elitism and present more of a challenge as you seek to engage the broader American public. Critiques of the tax incentives have labeled them "tax havens" and "tax bonanza" for the wealthy landowner. Although the tax benefits were intended to aid the land-rich, cash-poor farmer or small business, struggling because of exorbitant property and estate taxes to hold on to their land, the federal tax benefits disproportionately favor wealthy landowners. Some 7
view conservation easements as unfair tax treatment of non-wealthy property owners. Because the allowable charitable income tax deduction is based on annual income, individuals in high income brackets earn disproportionately larger tax savings than those in middle and lower. 7.
Any references to engaging community must be made with humility and the full awareness of the 30 year history of the Community Land Trust Movement, and to understand the reasons for its historic split with conservation land trusts in the 1970’s.
Different people have entirely different historical relationships to land, to land ownership, to their working relationship to land, and the right to be on the land. These different relationships to and around land can be described alongside the history of slavery, genocide of indigenous groups, oppression of women, classism, and homophobia in this country, and certainly more. And engagement of more of the community will require a knowledge of and sensitivity toward these histories.
Any references to engaging community must be made with the humility and full awareness of the critique of perpetual conservation easements as having long-term impact on housing costs. These well-known critiques say, “The rapid rate land trusts are acquiring properties, preventing construction of homes far into the future, will in time limit housing availability and push prices up. This already is a critical issue in California, where 427,000 acres of land are encumbered by conservation easement9 and where the state contains some of the most expensive real estate in the nation. For decades there has been a constant struggle pitting farming and grazing needs and the desire for open spaces against housing needs.” (Gattuso)0
Engaging more of the community means engaging diversity, which is not solely about race. To make progress in this work may require that land trusts first consider all the forms of diversity that may keep them from most effectively meeting the larger community. Our experience, arising from work with dozens and dozens of conservation groups, is that gender, class and age are also fundamental issues of diversity that must be surfaced and engaged by land trusts.
What this project is not The Land Trust Alliance seeks a meaningful, authentic place in which to start systematically making progress toward a more successful engagement of a broader segment of the American population. CWC will provide the insights of practitioners and potential allies about what they feel are the necessary changes that the Land Trust Alliance, and its members, would need to make to do this. This is not a strategic plan or an effort at consensus building. The report that the Land Trust Alliance receives will give them direct input on the most important “next steps” that could be taken that will evolve land trusts and make them more successful allies to other groups and more relevant organizations to more of the American public.