Thursday, May 3, 2012

Down to earth

I suppose, in the great panoply of things that bother me, calling land trusts "elite" is among the least toxic. Nevertheless, it's a charge we occasionally hear. I heard it most recently at the Maine Land Trust Network conference last weekend in Topsham, in a very benign way, of course, and in the context of something to avoid. However, the keynote speaker, Peter Forbes, who slipped in the comment, clearly had it in mind when he said that promoting community-centric preservation activities would counter such charges. Kind of like damning with faint asides.

Forbes is clearly on the "use" side, as opposed to the "preserve" side of the land trust movement. He says we're just starting Land Trust 2.0, in which community use of the wonders of nature will educate, enforce and reinforce our relationship to the land. All true, but his evangelism seems to discount the need to protect much more land from development in the first place. I believe his ideas work wonders in those cases where the land has already been compromised, or where a problem of over-use already exists. By all means, the community will help to solve the problem. But when an opportunity arises to protect an undeveloped parcel forever, we must do so and then make it available, as possible, for public use. The tide of development history is against us. We must force the issue and hope the community agrees, and benefits, and applauds.

The very diversity of endeavors on display at the conference puts paid to Forbes' pleas for a new theory. Land trusts and other groups in Maine are doing amazing things - a farm in Falmouth provides employment and education for the teenage kids of Somali refugees, community-owned forests provide recreation and sustainable logging in Amherst and Grand Lake Stream, the Appalachian Mountain Club sponsors the Great Maine Outdoor Weekends, the Saco River Recreational Council cleans up after (and educates) the 100,000 boaters using the river in the summer, Kennebunkport Conservation Trust integrates outdoor education into the primary school curriculum, the 4-H Center at Bryant's Pond inspires kids for the outdoors. (These are just from the three workshops, of 32 in total, that I attended.) These are the very anti-thesis of elitism - they are literally down to earth. Apparently, Maine folks are figuring things out without the help of national theorists.

1 comment:

Morag said...

Unfortunately, a farm that employs immigrant kids IS viewed as elitist as similar opportunities for Maine poor kids are slim to non-existent. Not arguing with your main point or suggesting the Falmouth farm is bad, just asking for a little sensitivity to local culture.