There are abundant pressures on open land, from urban and suburban sprawl to the increase of factory farming. At the same time, it is being recognized that more and more species are being lost as land becomes less diversified and habitats are destroyed. In addition, life is becoming more stressful and people seek ways to engage in recreation for relief. There may be a way to combine more balanced land use with the need for human populations to engage in recreation, and to save significant portions of the natural world at the same time. These methods involved dual uses for open land, both agricultural and forest, and would benefit from additional support by governmental agencies.
Statement of the problem
In an era when it is more profitable to sell rural or close-in suburban land for development than to retain the land for farming or other uses, means must be found to retain the economic and social benefits of land ownership. Some suggested benefits landowners could derive include hunting and fishing, camping, wildlife observations, running a rural bed and breakfast inn, offering rural vacation opportunities and other non-farming activities. Whether or not these methods are being tried, and whether or not they offer sufficient benefits for landowners to retain and husband their land, rather than selling it for more population-dense uses, is unknown. It is likely, however, that there are at least pilot programs in operation to investigate the possibilities.
Methodology scientific literature review was undertaken, but resulted in abundant references to the biological effects of conservation efforts on various species, and almost no references to the economic and social benefits to the human population per se. Therefore, a review of current non-scientific and popular publications and Web sites was also undertaken to gain insights into whether economically and socially beneficial programs involving alternative uses of land were underway. The relative lack of scientific studies involving landowners and non-farming benefits of landownership suggests that this is an area where investigation is needed.
There are several organizations committed in some way to protecting wildlife, such as Ducks Unlimited and the Sierra Club; few organizations, if any, have as their goal teaching landowners how to derive economic benefits from their conservation efforts, although the social and biological benefits are obvious. One organization, however, with the mission of saving American farmland, does include economic benefits in its roster of intentions, and there are numerous smaller and often unheralded programs around the country that bring together landowners and programs that provide economic benefits for the landowner directly, or indirectly through improving the local economy, and that provide social and conservation benefits as well.
A review of the literature, both professional and general, reveals that there are several ways landowners can benefit from wildlife conservation efforts, as well as a number of organizations that can help them. The literature is less abundant, however, regarding the direct benefits of specific land-based recreational opportunities, and the research is generally anecdotal rather than based on scientific or sociological studies.
24-year-old organization, American Farmland Trust, has been on the forefront of a conservation movement designed to bring the benefits of wildlife and land conservation to farmers and to the communities that surround farms, especially if those communities have been encroached by urban or suburban sprawl.
Many people would be surprised to know more than half the nation's food production, in dollar value, comes form communities surrounding cities. "The amount of U.S. fruit and vegetable production in these rapidly growing areas is even more astonishing, exceeding 75%." The benefits of farm and ranch land as a backdrop for tourism and outdoor recreation is ample, as the chambers of commerce in Colorado's Rocky Mountains, the Pennsylvania Dutch country around Lancaster, Pennsylvania and the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia would attest. (Thompson and Warman, 2000, AFT Web site)
American Farmland Trust has done some work in convincing state and local governments to spend more than they had been in protecting wildlife on the 'urban edge' farm and forest lands. While the federal government spends more than a billion dollars a year on such efforts, most of that is spent in rural areas in the Midwest, and not in the more easily reached areas that could benefit from recreational opportunities. Among the opportunities for economic and social benefits identified by AFT are pick-your-own operations and plant nurseries on the urban fringe, as well as farmer's markets that offer both income for the farmer/landowner and recreation and good food for the urbanite/suburbanite. AFT also notes that "more and more farmers are learning that people will pay to experience life on the farm or to engage in recreational pursuits like hiking, horseback riding, hunting and birding in the open spaces and fresh air of the countryside." (Thompson and Warman, 2000, AFT Web site)
In fact, some high-profile people have discovered the economic and social benefits of owning agricultural land. One of these is Ted Turner who owns more than 1.7million acres in Montana, New Mexico, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, and Florida. Turner has replaced cattle herds with more environmentally gentle buffalo. Through is own Turner Endangered Species Fund, he is protecting or reintroducing numerous fish, bird and animal species where their habitats are threatened. "Though clearly acting with an environmental ethic, Turner also purchases properties to generate income and for his own recreational enjoyment." (Mundy, 2003, unpaged)
While Turner's ranch is for personal enjoyment and wealth-building, the Beaumont Ranch, a 3,000-acre working ranch near Fort Worth, Texas, has discovered additional uses that can add economic and social benefits for landowners. The Beaumont Ranch is home to corporate 'encroachments' as team building seminars and courses, spas, cafes tennis courts and skeet shooting. Sometimes it hosts popular events such as Willie Nelson concerts, followed by a real cattle drive with camping out under the stars, for which guests are willing to pay to participate. In some cases, the money collected goes to support other charities, such as Ronald McDonald House. But the ranch itself is both a working ranch and a tourist attraction offering sports from the truly ranch-based (riding, cattle-driving and camping) to those that just benefit from the open spaces and beautiful scenery (tennis, skeet, etc.) (Chapman, 2003, unpaged)
An Iowa submarine-engineer-turned conservationist in Central Iowa uses 200 acres of his 700-acre farm for fishing for bass or catfish, collecting firewood, or camping to watch his the deer, coyotes, wild turkeys, hawks and sometimes an eagle. The land is protected under an easement because to the engineer, the value is in the "little island of woods in the middle of crop ground." (Hill, 2002, unpaged)
Recreational activities that are conservation-oriented also take 'pin money' directions. While neither a sport nor a service, such as a bed and breakfast inn, a dried flower co-op is another way landowners can use their agricultural land to provide both economic and social benefits. Even ten years ago, it was possible to make $30,000 an acre for raising flowers, drying them, and selling them both locally to tourists and in the big flower markets in New York City. Little Possum Farm in Gate City, Virginia, on the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains did that in 1991. In that area, it was also a way to get out of labor-intensive, land-sapping tobacco culture and into something that would attract both tourists and wildlife, according to one of the founders of the co-op, Appalachian Growers Cooperative, to which Little Possum belonged. The co-op also produced income for non-growers who were hired to sort, grade, pack and ship the products from the warehouse. (McBride, 1994, 13)
In 2001, the federal government made grants available to landowners in 28 states and Puerto Rico for conservation activities. The grants were part of the Endangered Species Act Landowner Incentive Program, an initiative established by Congress to provide financial assistance and incentives to private property owners who are willing to conserve listed species. Congress had appropriated as much as $5 million a year; to qualify, landowners had to contribute at least ten percent of the cost of the conservation effort in cash or in kind (labor, supplies). Two of the many programs demonstrate the possibilities, one with economic benefit potential for landowners, the other more difficult to quantify.
The Barrow Eider Conservation Plan, Alaska, is directed at conservation of two endangered waterfowl, the Stellar's and spectacled eiders. The grant is to protect their only known breeding site. Because it specifically involves protected species, there is no possibility of hunting as an economic benefit to the landowners. (M2Presswire, 2001, unpaged) However, the ultimate benefit is retention of unique wildlife, making the area a continuing tourism attraction.
The Colorado Cutthroat Trout Recovery program in Utah is helping the Northern Ute Indian Tribe to conduct conservation efforts on 200 miles of streams in the Uintah and Ouray Indian Reservations. Trout loss has been a problem due to habitat loss, water development project and the introduction of non-native fish. Actions include removing non-native fish…