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Land conservation as an act of philanthropy

Locations: Columns, Opinion Published

On Dec. 20, 2022, Jeff and Janette Bier donated 8.5 acres adjacent to the Marble Wetlands to the Trust for Land Restoration (TLR). The 55-acre Marble Wetlands was donated to TLR a year earlier by an anonymous individual. These properties lie between lands already owned by the Division of Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

The assemblage now protects about a mile of Crystal River riparian habitat just upstream of the town of Marble. Efforts are underway by TLR to remediate some damage done there during the mining era, and the ultimate goal will be to preserve this entire reach forever. The Crystal Valley has thus quietly secured its own “North Star,” equally important to wildlife and humans in our fragile watershed. 

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All of this has got me feeling deep gratitude toward landowners who have donated lands and conservation easements. It’s also got me thinking about what a profound act such a donation really is. 

Aldo Leopold was perhaps our first “deep ecologist.” In “The Land Ethic” written in 1948, Leopold grasped the conflict between land as mere property, and land’s transcendent value to our communities and to our biosphere. He wrote:

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“There is as yet no ethic dealing with man’s relation to land and to the animals and plants which grow upon it. Land, like Odysseus’ slave-girls, is still property. The land relation is still strictly economic, entailing privileges but no obligations.” 

Odysseus had hung slave girls without moral compunction because they were simply property. And so too our property laws allow owners to disregard critical ecological functions and other community values based on private whim. Leopold thus essentially characterized mindless development as land slavery. He propounded “The Land Ethic” to challenge the simple concept of ownership as determinative of the fate of open land.

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As a technical matter, when people like the Biers donate land to a conservation organization, they simply execute a deed to a conservation entity. But, on a deeper level, they free the land from the tyranny of selfish control. Ecosystems predating our own species become self-willed. It is an emancipation. 

Given the ecological and social importance of open lands, it is fortunate that our friends Jeff and Janette are not alone. One of the first conservation easements in Colorado occurred in the Crystal Valley in 1981 when George Stranahan donated his Flying Dog Ranch development rights to Aspen Valley Land Trust.

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Over the ensuing years, many others have quietly followed George’s example; Ginny Parker’s donation of a conservation easement on Happy Day Ranch in Emma, and Tom and Rose Rupert’s donation of a conservation easement last year in Old Snowmass come to mind. Owners who have worked with open space departments and land trusts to preserve open lands rarely achieve the private gain that might have occasioned development. 

My gratitude extends also to the anonymous 2018 donation of several key parcels to the town of Carbondale. One of those parcels is now known as Chacos Park. 

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CVEPA strives to promote a land ethic in the management of both private and public lands (see www.cvepa.org). We hold in high esteem those individuals who place the common interest above their own, and value open and wild lands. The emancipation of one’s own land from the sole dictates of the self is perhaps one of the most lasting legacies an individual might achieve. Thank you, Jeff and Janette. 

Tags: #Aldo Leopold #Crystal River #CVEPA Views #Dale Will #Marble Wetlands #Trust for Land Restoration
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