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Buying Back Eden

We have turned Eden into realty, and realty into money in its myriad forms. Now, a burgeoning "wildlands philanthropy" wants to buy back tracts of property and restore pieces to Eden—or, at least, to help balance earthly reality with the financial fungibility of landscapes.

The soul of wildlands philanthropy is its Will to Heal ecosystems and its Desire to Gift future generations with a few authentic masterpieces of planetary creation. The first impulse springs from the awareness that uncontaminated waters and untrammeled lands are literally the ingredients of our blood and flesh. The separation of individual natures from biospheric nature is an artificial construction of Mind. To heal the biospheric body is to heal the human body.

The Desire to Gift springs from the complex emotions of generosity. Kindness to the Earth is conceived of as Kindness to the extended self. The Desire to Gift dwells only in a few individuals who, from destiny, birth, or experience, feel both the joy of wildlands and the joy of giving them to an unknowable future. Thanks, Wolf, you sing so well! Here's Greater Yellowstone, howl forever more.

Wildlands "patronage" is uncomfortable. Cold cash plays footsie with pure and warm desires. In the pervasive market system, every living being has its price. The last Asian tigers already bear their price—the cost to saving them or to buying their pelts. Each California condor has been the beneficiary of three or more million dollars from the investments contributed by taxpayers and corporate gifts.

Wildlands financing is confused. Biological diversity sports no obvious price signal. Until road runners can pontificate on inheritance taxes, we just have to ruffle our feathers and confess: there are no easily defined financial beneficiaries of wildlands charity, no wise owls to help determine their monetary value. We can speculate. Some of our grandchildren will prefer wildlands to an artificial life on an artificial planet; some will hanker to fly-fish (even catch-and-return); and some will cherish a simple walk in a still, rich forest. Even feeling confident that human beneficiaries will exist, how do you set a price on a lake, land, or estuary? You cannot consult your great-great-grandchildren and discuss the down payment, interest rate, or payback time that will meet their desires.

Ultimately, the financial value of rich and rare landscapes is a deal struck between those who want to harvest and alter the local foodweb, and those who want it to remain intact.

The Tools of Wildlands Philanthropy

Wildlands philanthropists are not a select group. Nature Conservancy dues, workplace giving, matching gifts, taxes that wend their way into the Federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, corporate donations, percentage offtake from sales (as at MCI, Patagoniam or Second Nature Software), bequests, conservation easements, land trades, and a host of other "wildland protection tools" all reveal a generosity toward the Earth. What is new is the speed at which wildlands disappear and degrade, and the experimental and unusual partnerships currently evolving to conserve the last pieces. Here are three broad approaches:

A. Get the potential holy ground out of the market system.

B. Modify the existing market system to reduce stressing the ecosystem, allowing it to heal.

C. Build a parallel market whose goal is to set aside some landscapes (out of the market) and "reasonably" harvest the remainder.

Out of the Market

Removing habitat from the property speculators insures that the landscape will only be disturbed by externalities—climate change, upstream water diversions, or too many tourists.

Direct purchase by individuals is the simplest and most direct philanthropic action. In contrast to George Soros's admirable desire to encourage open societies and relieve human suffering, wildlands philanthropists focus on planetary suffering and encourage "biophilia," the love of all life. With the long-term intention to prevent degradation and preserve and enhance biodiversity, Ted Turner's purchase of nine ranches and Doug Tompkins's purchase of coastal temperate rainforest in Chile are the best known examples of this rare and special entrepreneurship.

The problem of individual philanthropy, wildland or not, is that there are so few philanthropists. I have heard young tree-huggers at the Headwaters redwood groves wistfully wonder why Silicon Valley millionaires and billionaires don't share their sense of imminent loss. These financially starved, funky, gutsy, non-violent tree-hugger devotees appear perplexed: Why doesn't Bill Gates buy the last groves of redwoods? It would keep his name alive longer than Microsoft. Their eyes wander over three-thousand-year-old trees and they wish (more like pray) for a philanthropist who cherishes the knowledge-based old-growth forest. The reality is that philanthropy comes from very individual desires. Some, like J. Brainerd in Silicon Valley, do support education and information about timbering old growth. But, apparently, wildlands philanthropy—in the sense of removing land from the market place—has not appeared on their monitors' screens.

Indirect purchase of wildlands through money gained by nonprofits is the most widespread form of wildlands philanthropy. The scene is remarkably diverse. Patagonia, Ben and Jerry's, and the former Grateful Dead all work hard to make "gentle" profits and careful donations. Monsanto, Dow, Georgia Pacific, and Chevron are equally generous to wildlands purchases, but taking their donations makes some nonprofits uncomfortable.

The Nature Conservancy is America's largest private landowner (1,400 preserves, nearly 800,000 acres owned, and 3.4 million acres managed in all fifty states, not including partnerships in Latin America, the Caribbean, and Asia/Pacific). It has done more to remove specific wildlands from the real estate market than any private organization on Earth. It accepts small and giant contributions of land, appreciated securities, and bequests, as well as money from any person, foundation, agency, or corporation that cares to give. Like most nonprofits, the Nature Conservancy does not screen its donations. As Mark Twain (I believe) first said: "The only thing wrong with tainted money is there 'taint enuf of it." Groups like the Nature Conservancy turn others' sometimes questionable profits into otherwise good works.

Forgoing development opportunities has become an increasingly appreciated form of wildlands philanthropy. In a deal brokered by the non-profit EcoTrust, West Fraser Company (the timber concessionaire) surrendered cutting rights in the most unique act of corporate philanthropy ever witnessed in the great Northwest. The British Columbia Provincial government (the landowner) then returned the 800,000 acres of temperate rainforest and spectacularly rich rivers (six salmon species and a resident inland population of seals) to the Haisla peoples (see WER, No. 85). Similarly, in Arizona and New Mexico, the Malpai Group of eight ranches, covering one million acres, has forgone certain grazing rights and organized a grazing commons in exchange for the donation of conservation easements that will protect wildlife corridors and grassland species from both over-grazing and subdivisions.

Commodity Gifting and Wildlands Barter are other out-of-market philanthropic tool that frequently offer indirect help to wildlands philanthropy. Microsoft, for instance, gave computer equipment to Nature Conservancy. When working in Mali, I would drink a Biere Niger and dream up a postmodern global/local wildlands philanthropy based on the local barter markets. I figured that coal- and petroleum-based heating and cooking fuels slowed down forest cutting throughout the temperate zones of the planet. They provided a window of time for the rise of the conservation movement. Without coal, and then petro-fuels, tree harvesting would have been even more devastating.

In Mali, despite solar cookers, citizens relentlessly cut the savanna woodlands for heat and cooking. In my twenty-first century Sahel, oil companies bartered petro-calories for wood-based calories. Brokers bartered propane or cooking oil for intact savanna woodlands. Or, the oil companies initiated a modified bartering in which they sold petro-fuels at or just below fuelwood prices. By forgoing maximum profit, their "philanthropic profits" increased environmental and human welfare.

A few more beers and days in the arid dust of La Forêt Morte and I hallucinated petroleum companies bartering petro-based fertilizers for South American rainforest. The cleared laterite soils of Amazonia wear out fast; by supplying fertilizer to increase production and prolong the use of a farm, the barter system would reduce the pressure to clear more forest. (Land clearing and fires take out the most forest.)

Local/global commodity gifting with ecological feedbacks requires beneficent companies, thoughtful intermediaries, and local community enforcement. These philanthropic linkages do not exist.

Debt-for-Nature swaps are a form of philanthropy in which a nonprofit organization in the creditor nation pays off a debt from another nation. The nonprofit takes advantage of currency exchange differences and, in turn, "buys" the debt with land set aside in the debtor's nation for ecosystem protection. The most famous examples have occurred in Peru and Ecuador.

State-based philanthropy (basically taxpayers giving to the government and the government giving according to budget votes or administrative edict) is the public sector form of wildlands care.

In some states, there is a check-off on tax forms for non-game wildlife programs. But most state-based philanthropy is political and requires citizen rabble- rousing. Recent citizen outcries, for instance, have freed up wildland purchases from the Federal Land and Conservation Fund that were trapped by Republicans at the appropriations phase. Frustrations with legislatures have stimulated a mini-boom in referenda that require states to purchase parcels of Eden.

In-Market Partnerships

Wildlands philanthropy can take the form of going beyond what is required. Reducing acid rain emissions below national or international standards will further heal forests; very selective timber harvesting to prevent genetic erosion of the desired tree species will maintain biodiversity; and preventing the spread of exotics and invasives will keep intact communities from flipping out. The generosity is beyond the call of law.

Wildlands philanthropists have nearly neglected, for instance, the devastating impact of invasives and the funding required to educate the public and to reverse their spread. For example, the Australian pine has damaged loggerhead sea turtle nesting sites. A guided philanthropy could sponsor restoration of the nest sites and removal of the pines. African buffel grass has been pushing the Sonoran desert to become arid grassland. Mission-based philanthropy is needed to curtail exotic grass propagation and to research control measures.

In forestry, exotics and invasives cause a loss of $2 billion in timber revenues and disrupt woodlands and forests. Invasive bullfrogs and exotic fish are among the gravest threats to endangered natives. Though a few partnerships evolve (see WE, No. 90 and MWEC, p. 77), wildlands phil-anthropy has yet to organize a wide-ranging approach for restoration, finding pest-resistant ecotypes, and invasive controls using both funds and volunteers to maintain wildland authenticity.

Parallel Market Innovations

Do no harm. Selecting and valuing your economic network is the last way of modifying blind profiteering for habitat protection. Giving business to workers and management that do no harm can be the best good. These parallel markets or "custom designed chains of custody" involve filtering or screening out bad operators and extractors; mission-based investments; accepting lower returns for benevolent forestry or agriculture, or taking higher risks to support more benevolent acts. Merck and Company, for instance, made a deal with Costa Rica that essentially recognized local property rights to medicinal plants and organized a parallel market that helps maintain wildlands. Shaman's Apprentice and the Healing Forest Conservancy now await four approvals from the Federal Drug Administra-tion. They have woven royalties, conservation, and cultural integrity into another parallel market. Finally, certain Green Certified wood producers are attempting to cut selectively and may be able to maintain most of the forest's biological diversity.

Pilgrimage and Property

Caroming between green mega-bucks and variegated terra firma, two monetary maxims popped to mind. Wildness is a mental world that cannot conceive of money. Wilderness is a landscape increasingly conceived as priceless.

These thoughts brewed while watching tourists in the Grand Canyon. I saw that it did not matter how you arrived (by personal jet or hitchhiking, walking or driving); whether you were rich or poor; or if you were Japanese, Afghani, or from Alabama. At the Grand Canyon, a certain leveling takes place. The immensity equalizes, and many tourists slip into an allegory of eternal return, with many "wows!" in many languages. Even mundane chatter includes the land and sky. Thanks are voiced, sometimes awkwardly and humorously and sometimes with poetic aplomb.

Every family hopes to visit certain places during their lifetime, and hopes their children's children will make the journey to spots like the Grand Canyon. For moments, the walkers of Bright Angel Trail appear to be pilgrims in geological time, intent on accomplishing certain stops as in India or old Europe. Today's commercial ecotourism is maybe the embryo of a new Turtle Island pilgrimage.

These landscapes infuse the imagination as much as or more than a museum full of rarities or cities with famous buildings and unique musical events. At some moment, Chartres, the Metropolitan, or Yosemite jump to the value "priceless." And, in a sense, at the same moment, ownership disappears. The worth-shape (the origin of "worship") has surpassed any conceivable financial accounting.

Wildlands philanthropy takes the long-term visionary risk: Can removing a specific parcel of realty from the market transform the landscape into a priceless, long-term gift to the critters who dwell therein, including humans? Will buying back a piece of Eden give the pilgrim joy and keep the Kingdom in peace?