By Clare Foran
The House voted on Wednesday to approve a sweeping and historic conservation and public lands bill that President Donald Trump has pledged to sign into law.
The measure — the Great American Outdoors Act — has already been passed by the Senate and will now go to the President’s desk for his signature.
The legislation would fully and permanently fund a conservation program known as the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which was set up by Congress in the 1960s and has been chronically underfunded. The measure will require mandatory funding of the program at a level of $900 million annually. Funding for the program does not use taxpayer dollars. Instead it comes from revenues from offshore oil and gas royalty payments.
The legislation would also dedicate funding for backlogged maintenance projects on federal lands run by the National Park Service, the Forest Service and other agencies.
Congressional approval of the legislation represents a rare moment of bipartisan unity on Capitol Hill and comes at a time of national crisis as the country grapples with the devastating toll of the coronavirus pandemic and gears up for contentious negotiations over further relief to address the economic and public health fallout from the spread of the disease.
Congressional Democrats, including Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, have fought for permanent reauthorization and full funding of the LWCF for years, making the passage of the bill a major victory for Democrats.
“The stars aligned correctly this time,” Grijalva said in an interview with CNN ahead of the vote on Wednesday. “This is a popular program, people want it, and I think regardless of party people are responding.”
By Jeff Kart
The Conservation Fund has a goal of conserving 5 million acres of at-risk forests in the next 15 years. They’ve announced the closing of unique 10-year green bonds totaling $150 million. What does that mean? Pictures can tell part of the story.
The problem: Forests in America are being broken up and developed. In the last 30 years, 36 million acres have been lost. Another 37 million acres could be lost in coming decades if the situation is left unchecked, according to the fund, headquartered in Arlington, Virginia.
And besides turning carbon dioxide into oxygen, offsetting as much as a fifth of the nation’s carbon emissions, forests support more than 8.5 million jobs, according to Larry Selzer, CEO of the fund. Selzer says the bonds are the first step in scaling up to a goal of conserving 5 million acres in the next 15 years.
Proceeds from the bonds will go to scale up The Conservation Fund’s Working Forest Fund, which is dedicated to mitigating climate change, strengthening rural economies and protecting natural ecosystems.
This happens through the permanent conservation of at-risk working forests, according to the nonprofit. The term “working forest” refers to land that’s “sustainably managed to supply a steady, renewable supply of wood for industry and consumer purposes while also providing jobs and community benefits.”
John Gilbert, executive vice president and chief financial officer with The Conservation Fund, says the bonds should be fully utilized in the next six to nine months. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. was sole underwriter, Bloomberg notes.
“We are going to intervene and buy the most important, at-risk forests when they come up for sale with the bond proceeds,” Gilbert says. “This is how we stop the sellers from fragmenting the forests, and how we buy time for public agencies to put funding in place that permanently protects the forests in a balanced way for nature, recreation and local jobs.”
Anyone can buy one of the bonds, but like most corporate and municipal bonds, they are primarily sold to big investors and institutional accounts. “There was high interest among investors in these green bonds, and they were oversubscribed by 2.5 times the $150 million supply,” Gilbert added.
By Paul Rogers
TULARE COUNTY — A Bay Area conservation group has signed a deal to purchase the world’s largest privately owned giant sequoia forest, a primeval landscape in California’s Southern Sierra Nevada with massive trees that soar 250 feet tall, span up to 80 feet around at their trunks and live for more than 2,000 years.
The 530-acre property, known as the Alder Creek, is roughly the same size as Muir Woods National Monument in Marin County. Located in Tulare County 10 miles south of Sequoia National Park, it is home to 483 massive trees that are larger than six feet in diameter — four more trees than the famed Mariposa Grove at Yosemite National Park.
“This is probably the most-coveted sequoia conservation opportunity in a generation,” said Sam Hodder, president of Save the Redwoods League, a non-profit group based in San Francisco that has agreed to pay $15.6 million to purchase the property.
“It’s not any single tree,” he said of the landscape, which eventually will be open to the public. “This is an alpine landscape covered with iconic, breathtaking, cinnamon-barked trees that are surrounded by pastures. It is such a superlative representation of nature. This is the prize. This is the best of what’s left. It’s a very special place.”
The league, founded in 1918, signed a purchase agreement with the Rouch family, who has owned it since the 1940s. The family’s patriarch, Claude Albert, bought the land for its logging potential just before World War II, said his grandson, Mike Rouch, of Fresno.
“When they bought the property there was not even a road to it,” he said. “They had to ride horses.”
Over the generations, the family cut down sugar pine, white fir, red fir and other trees to make framing lumber for houses and other products. But they left the massive sequoias largely untouched.
By Mark Johnson
This huge yet little-known South American wilderness is under threat. But plans to turn it into a sustainable tourism hub will help protect its people and wildlife.
In the far north of Argentina lies a vast and extremely hot lowland known as the Gran Chaco. Were you to find yourself in it, as I did, you might kayak across a lily-filled lagoon and stumble into a solitary mansion peeking out above an endless sea of green.
It was here, at Estancia La Fidelidad, that eccentric rancher Manuel Roseo lived until 2011, when he was brutally murdered by criminals hoping to take his large (and little-touched) property. Thanks to the quick actions of Argentinian conservationists, provincial officials and the federal government, that tragedy had a silver lining with the birth of a new national park that could just shine a light on a forgotten South American wilderness.
El Impenetrable national park opened to the public in August 2017, following a telenovela’s worth of drama that included not only Roseo’s murder but the hunt for his missing heirs and a long legal battle to expropriate his land. At 128,000 hectares, it’s now the largest national park in northern Argentina and a beacon of hope for the entire Gran Chaco, which fans out into Paraguay, Bolivia and Brazil (where it is connected to the Pantanal region) and is South America’s second-largest forest ecosystem after the Amazon.
While the Amazon has become a rallying cry for environmentalists, the bulbous silk floss trees, towering cacti and bushy bramble of the Chaco are disappearing in relative silence. Never as well-known – or as protected – as the Amazon, the Chaco is fast becoming the domain of cattle ranches and soya farms.