This work, as well as work with other
national organizations, has required me to travel 40,000 to 60,000 miles a year
within the United States over the last ten years working
on, and learning about, land use and environmental issues.
While I wish to make it clear that I am here today as a private citizen
and not as a formal representative of these various organizations, these experiences
have certainly informed and shaped the opinions that I wish to share with you
perspective as a result of these experiences is that America has a very significant land use
crisis that threatens the bounty of our natural resources and the rich diversity
of our culture. This crisis poses an
immediate threat to us today and the promise, without immediate and dramatic
action that scales to the true needs of our country, of a greatly degraded
and irrevocably altered natural estate for all generations to come.
While I have offered more extensive
support for this assertion in materials that I have submitted with this testimony,
let me offer some support here for this position, as well as a sense of the
current pace of this degradation and depletion.
Over our history, the lower 48 states have lost 52% of their original wetland
areas and they continue to lose these areas at the rate of 109,000 acres per
year; because each acre of wetland provides significant annual economic benefits,
this continuing annual loss of 109,000 acres amounts to a loss of billions
of dollars each year, losses that continue and compound with new losses year
after year. Geologically significant
grasslands have and are disappearing at similar rates.
When one surveys the environment regionally, the loss seems, if possible,
even greater: the Central Valley of California has lost 95% of its original
wetlands and 90% of its riparian corridors have been lost or severely degraded;
50% of the forest and wetlands have been cleared and drained around the Chesapeake
Bay, severely deteriorating the quality of its water; 80% of the original
24,000,000 acres of forested wetlands in the Mississippi Aleuvial Valley are
gone; 96% of the original 167,000,000 of the tallgrass prairies in the Midwest
are gone; 98% of the formerly dominant long-leaf pine in the Southeast region
are gone; and the Pacific Northwest has lost 90%, or 25,000,000 acres, of
its ancient forests.
Of the 14 major living groups of organisms, including all vertebrates and
vascular plants in the United States, 1/3 of them are graded of “conservation concern”, meaning
that they are either extinct, imperiled or significantly vulnerable.
Similarly, of the 76 eco-regions in the 48 contiguous states, only
nine are considered not to be critical, endangered or in a vulnerable condition
as habitat for the species they contain. Indeed,
an astounding 30% or more of the natural communities in areas such as Hawaii, Oregon’s Willamette Valley, and vast portions of the Midwest and Southeast are in danger of vanishing from our natural
While it is easy to read these as statistics,
these statistics report the condition of our natural estate. That estate has been the remarkable physical
platform for our wealth and our strength, and it is obviously diminished and
imperiled. But it is not just the natural
estate; it is also our culture and our quality of life. For example:
From 1982 to 1992, more than 1,000,000 acres of agricultural land across the
United States was converted annually to residential
and other development purposes, one-third of which was classified as prime
and unique farmland. From 1992 to 1997, the conversion rate doubled,
with 11.2 million acres converted from farmland to other purposes.
In the last two decades, over one million acres of rangeland in the Greater
Yellowstone area have been split into plots of 200 acres or less, changing
irrevocably those ranching communities and fragmenting the landscape that
some say defines America.
From 1992 to 1997, the United States created 15% of its total urban footprint – the other
85% took approximately 220 years.
This development pattern is dependent on the automobile and the result of
that is that the average American now spends approximately 445 hours in a
car annually or the equivalent of 55 eight hour work days — all at a great
cost to our land, our air, our water, our families, and our communities.
we need economic growth, to continue to develop in this same pattern not only
wastes our land base, but it also diminishes our water quality, our air quality,
our sense of community, our natural habitat for plants and animals, and our
culture. It is especially harmful to
our ranching and farming communities because so much of their land is being
irreparably lost to other land uses.
dramatic change, the future bodes no better for the future of our beautiful
For example, the scientists at Yellowstone National Park report that, unless development patterns are addressed
in the three states surrounding the park, the large mammals within the park
will no longer be able to exist naturally. They will, in effect, become museum pieces because
they will no longer be able to follow their migratory trails in and out of
those spectacular areas that their natural existence requires.
The demographers in the Southeast are now reporting that we should anticipate
that there will be one metropolitan area that connects Birmingham to Atlanta to Greenville to Charlotte to Raleigh in the very near term.
Not only will this change the culture of the Southeast forever, but
it will obviously affect the natural communities as indicated above.
Recent flooding of the Mississippi reminds us of the astounding costs
of channeling these great rivers and losing the wetlands that cushion and
absorb the natural flood stages of our riparian systems.
This will become an even greater problem throughout the nation.
If current development and population trends continue, it is estimated that
by 2050 our farmers and ranchers will be required to produce food for 50%
more Americans on 13% less land.
As a nation, we have simply worked
our land and natural estate hard for 225 years, a fact that would stress any
system. This stress, however, is greatly
exacerbated today by the fact that we now have 281,000,000 people, a 13% increase
since 1990, and it is anticipated that that number will increase by 58,000,000,
or 21%, by 2020.
Collectively this is a very difficult
picture. It is the result of many causes
and stresses and will require new and dramatic solutions that scale to the
depths and breadth of these challenges to restore fully a balance that is
worthy of this great land and nation that we share.
It is, however, an especially disturbing
picture, not just from the perspective of what we have lost, which is extraordinarily
significant, but even more so when we fully realize that this is also the
picture of the physical platform for our future strength. We are the beneficiary and the product of our
natural estate. And just as it has
been throughout our history, the strength, power and wealth of our nation
in the future is absolutely dependent upon its condition.
This disturbing conclusion is underscored
by the fact that we no longer have any time left for wasted opportunity
or misguided activity.  It is the same as when we started the Chattahoochee
River Greenway project. We simply
looked at the aerial photographs and realized that unless we began that
day to create our Greenway, we would lose the opportunity to create those
parks and conserve and enhance those river and water resources forever. As one travels over our country, one knows that
there are identical aerial photographs in every state. It certainly is so around Yellowstone National
Park; as the South morphs into one metropolitan area from Birmingham to
Washington, it is certainly true there; as one looks at development leap
up the Hudson River or consume more of the desert of Arizona or as another
ranch or farm family elects to sell its land, we know that it is true in
those places and elsewhere in America as well.
As we consider all of this and wonder
how we might effectively respond, we must admit one clear fact. We must acknowledge these statistics as a troubling
report card at best on our generation’s stewardship of our natural estate.
We must also agree that it is a report card that demands response
today and a response that is predicated on the certain knowledge that we
can no longer afford any course that does not begin to improve this report
card dramatically, immediately and permanently.
So the question is not, do we need
to make a reinvestment, or when, it is simply what is the best way to do
it? And even this question has its
own urgency because we are at a point in our history where the economy is
difficult, there is heightened turmoil in the world, and governmental dollars
are especially precious. We need
to make certain that every dollar we spend on conservation is wisely invested. And every dollar we spend, whether it is through
direct appropriation or through tax policy, should be tested through the
prism of whether or not that dollar best assures us of a significant and
lasting improvement in our natural estate report card.
This new course will require over time
many things. There will be new conservation
opportunities to seize, maintenance and operational issues to address, and
new park needs to be met. But business
as usual will clearly not by itself achieve our goal.
We must begin today a thoughtful new
national initiative, on a scale that is beyond any historical standard,
that allows us to conserve and allow for the restoration of our natural
estate. And it must be an initiative that gives all
of us confidence that its inevitable result will be significant improvement
in the protection of our rivers, conservation of our forests, the providing
of sufficient habitat for the diversity of species that we need to survive,
the setting aside of our precious farm and ranch land, and the enhancement
of cities through appropriate "green space". To fail to create such a program, or to create
a new program that is not structured and coordinated to achieve these results
nationally, will not work.
The question then is how do we craft
such an initiative that will best spend our dollars, most effectively and
most expeditiously, with the greatest chance of success against our goal?
While one can debate many of the details,
my experiences have taught me that the following principles, strategies
and values must be incorporated in any plan for us to be successful against
this goal. Those include the following:
(1) Hybrid land estate: We must recognize
that our emphasis on land being either public or private has been too simple
and a real part of the problem. A
great deal of the required solution is coming to understand that we need
a greater emphasis on the creation of a larger hybrid land estate throughout
America that can achieve our conservation needs and in many instances connect
our fully public land to our fully private and enhance them both. This hybrid land estate must remain privately
owned and managed, but simultaneously must also be burdened with the loss
of certain development rights that the public has acquired voluntarily from
the owner at fair market value and holds in perpetuity for the benefit of
all of us. These hybrid lands, while
staying in private ownership and supporting private purposes, would also
serve the public and its collective needs by protecting our water, cleaning
the air, conserving habitat for our natural species, maintaining our farm
and ranch lands, and by offering “green” space to all of us.
Fortunately, we have a 25-year or more history of working with conservation
easements, which is the legal tool that creates this hybrid estate. Funding conservation easements must therefore
be at the center of any such program.
(2) Leveraged Focus: The program’s focus
must be sharp and it must be on reinvesting in, and thereby strengthening,
our natural estate. The use of conservation
easements would allow us to acquire from the landowner only that portion
of the real estate necessary to accomplish our goals.
Use of conservation easements would therefore offer the substantial
advantage of allowing us to accomplish a great deal more conservation than
we would with equivalent dollars expended for the full acquisition of the
property. This strategy would also
allow us to avoid the on-going costs associated with managing and operating
the property 
(3) State Involvement: Every state must
be involved and incented to participate in this program. While a portion of this reflects that every
state has environmental stresses that must be addressed, this also recognizes
that environmental systems, such as rivers, prairies, forests, and all of
the species that they support, do not know state lines. To be successful over time, and to protect our
overall investment, we must therefore have every state moving in a similar
(4) Partnerships: We must recognize that the most effective conservation
has been the result of public/private partnerships and therefore any plan
must put their creation at its center. Congress
must set the strategic direction and must set both the importance and pace
of the program by the amount of capital that it allocates to it; the states
must be involved in coordinating the activities at their level and in helping
to set local priorities; and the private sector must lead the execution.
As part of this, we must understand and appreciate that conservation
easements are bought and sold one family landowner at a time.
The best and most expeditious way to negotiate and close those transactions
will be to leverage the existing resources of the nonprofit conservation
community, including the community leaders across America that serve on their board of directors.
The nonprofit organizations therefore must also be at the center
of any such plan.
(5) Use and scale of capital: Use of capital
under this program should be limited to the acquisition and requirements
of conservation easements. By doing
so, Congress would be putting specific restrictions on the use of the capital
in accordance with existing law that happens to be consistent with our program’s
objectives. The scale of the capital
should reflect the deep needs of our country but should also be calibrated
between what is possible to execute as well as what is needed to unlock
the focus, imagination and energy of the most people to respond to this
(6) Urgency: The dollars should be allocated to states pursuant
to specific deadlines and, if the money is not spent within those deadlines,
it should be redistributed to those parts of our country with more pressing
needs and that also have the immediate capacity and desire to execute.
(7) Equity: We must recognize that the conservation and
restoration of our natural estate is everyone’s responsibility. Paying for it rather than simply accomplishing
it through regulation or relying on the generosity of the few reflects this
value. We should certainly keep our
current donation system in place and encourage its generous use. But by creating a system that is based on acquisitions
of conservation easements at fair market value, we can move to a program
that not only allows everyone to participate, but also allows us to negotiate
for clearer results, act more strategically, and establish our own pace
of execution: all critically important to the success of our effort.
(8) Tax credits: To be successful, we must
get as many people involved in America as possible.
The best way to achieve this is not through direct appropriations,
which is a process involving relatively few people, but instead to use tax
credits, which is a process that ultimately includes a lot of people.
A program based on tax credits will invite and incent those organizations
that wish to deploy the credits to get more individuals and businesses involved
in these issues and their solutions. This
will require a process of education and engagement that will result in much
more attention, understanding, and commitment to the resolution of these
issues. It will also allow us to
move at the much quicker response pace that our natural estate crisis requires.
(9) Strategic conservation: Because of
the way in which we have financed a great deal of conservation in this nation,
much of it has been done opportunistically as distinct from strategically. What this means by example is that we have acquired
a site here and there as they have become available or as someone has been
able to afford to give them, but collectively they do not necessarily support
or maintain an ecosystem. In those
instances, not only do they not fully accomplish a natural estate goal,
but by failing to do so they devalue, in some instances, the investment
or gift that has been made. The system
that we establish must allow us to move to strategic conservation. By allocating a set amount on an annual basis
on a state-by-state basis with appropriate sunset provisions, we would allow
and incent states and landowners to respond strategically to these issues. This is essentially what happened with our successful
Chattahoochee River project.
are the nine elements that I believe must be included to craft a plan that
will dramatically improve our natural estate report card immediately and
permanently. That is why I am here
to urge consideration, and ultimately, passage of H. R. 882.
H.R. 882 prescribes a plan that reflects
each of the nine values, strategies, and principles stated above.
It is entirely centered on conservation easements; dollars are allocated
to every state on a fair basis which assures the participation of every
state; it puts a non-profit conservation organization at the center of the
plan, but in the context of a direct working partnership with federal and
state government; the capital that it allocates may only be used for the
acquisition and requirements of conservation easements; it proposes a spending
level that scales to the need as well as communicates the importance of
the need; there are specific deadlines that will motivate states and land
owners alike; it allows each of us to participate in the conservation and
restoration of our natural estate; it is centered on tax credits rather
than direct appropriations; and it will allow strategic conservation planning
over time experience may require us to alter some of its provisions, all
dollars spent in the interim will move us closer to our goal. The reason for this is that under H.R. 882 dollars
can only be expended for the acquisition of conservation easements and their
requirements. This will assure two
results. Because of the current legal
limitations on conservation easements, whatever dollars are spent during
that period will have resulted in significant conservation goals having
been met. In addition, because we
can achieve a great deal more conservation for the equivalent dollar with
conservation easements than through outright acquisition of property, we
will have substantially leveraged all of the dollars that we have spent.
also important to appreciate that this is not just an investment in “America
the Beautiful”. While that might
be reason enough to make such an investment, given the beauty and wonder
of this great land, these investments will bear economic results: they will
filter our water and protect it; they will clean our air; they will keep
our fisheries and food stocks healthy and productive; they will help assure
genetic diversity and a healthy array of species; and they will provide
the much needed relief of “green space” to us all, while simultaneously
allowing us to avoid the costs of artificially replacing these same services.
These savings and returns will significantly lower the cost of this
program if not pay for it altogether.
are complex issues, but, given what we have lost, and what we are losing
and what we urgently need, this complexity should not keep us from taking
dramatic action today. Where there
is a sound idea with a certain promise of significant improvement in these
critical issues, we must seize it and put it into place.
H. R. 882 is just such an opportunity.
Christopher Glenn Sawyer, Esq.
One Atlantic Center
1201 West Peachtree Street
Atlanta, Georgia 30309-3424
See, e.g., the attached article: “The Value of Conservation Easements:
The Importance of Protecting Nature and Open Space”, by Amanda Sauer,
World Resources Institute, April 9, 2002
2. See, e.g., the attached lecture: “The Cascading of
Environmental Consequences: Are We Running Out of Time?”, by James Gustave
Speth, Dean, Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, April 11,
3. This is more succinctly stated in the attached report published
by the Western Governors’ Association, The Trust for Public Land, and
National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, entitled “Purchase of Development
Rights: Conserving Lands, Preserving Western Livelihoods”, January,
2001: “[Purchase of development rights through conservation easements]
makes economic sense in the West: it is a compensatory approach to conservation
that protects land from development pressure at prices that are more affordable
for the public than outright purchase, and it helps keep farmers and ranchers
on the land, providing essential stewardship and contributing to the tax base.”
(Page 5) and “The dire need to create substantial, dedicated funding
sources for state and local [Purchase of Development Rights] programs can
hardly be overstated.” (page 12)