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A female operative of The Nature Conservancy called me last week. Range is not fair and balanced, she said. You have blown TNC up into an evil thing.
Our Spring 2003 special report Natures Landlord: The Arrogance of The Nature Conservancy caused quite a stir. After several weeks TNC found a mistake, then bandied it about the country as if I were Baghdad Bob refusing to surrender Iraq.
Tim Findley is a mighty good journalist and he was misled. I owe the readers of Range, and, yes, The Nature Conservancy an apology, Findley writes, for the sloppiest blunder of my career in writing that TNC had traded properties in the United States for controlling interests in the Brazilian rainforest. Its not true. The story repeated was a hoax written by the environmentalist Grist Magazine web site as an April Fool joke in 2001. It came across my desk nearly two years later without the punch line, but I have no excuse for taking a shortcut without double-checking on something I could too readily assume to be accurate.
Thanks to TNC, our web page has been corrected. But we also discovered that in February 2003 General Motors put up a matching grant totaling nearly half a million dollars to purchase more of the 30,000-acre Parana reserve in southern Brazil.
The reserve was established by a $10 million grant from GM to The Nature Conservancy in 2000, Findley says. Through its dominant Earth Foundation data bank, TNC can bring vast regions and scores of indigenous economies under its control and management. A few examples of TNC holdings include: 1.5 million acres along the border of Panama and Columbia; at least 148,000 acres in Brazil; 260,000 acres in Belize (a fourth of that nations total land area) TNC says is now protected from conversion to agriculture; a half-million-acre-portion of Guatemala comprising the largest cloud forest in Central America and requiring the relocation of indigenous people to a farm managed by TNC.
Early in 2003, TNC influence led to the introduction in the U.S. Congress of the Tropical Forest Conservation Bill, offering to forgive $400 million of debt to the U.S. (our tax dollars) by Third World countries in exchange for agreements to save areas designated by conservation groups. Findley says, Even other environmentalists worry that such debt for nature swaps might actually open the countries involved to further resource exploitation and undermine the democratic efforts of indigenous people to achieve self-determination.
Theres more (see McTNC, page 64), but even more interesting is the reaction we gotrequests for thousands of reprints of Natures Landlord from people in 37 states and Canada. (Call 1-800-RANGE-4-U for a copy.) At the same time we learned that two investigative reporters at The Washington Post have been working on a five-part series on the Conservancy whichif TNC doesnt pull strings in high places and have it killedwill soon see the light of day.
Also, a few weeks back, Idahos TNC boss brandished Range at a county commission meeting, suggesting we are irrelevant, and asking for the commission to help change land use in their county. In late April, Oregons TNC boss wrote a defensive editorial stating: The Nature Conservancy is an open, transparent organization thats working with partners and communities at hundreds of locations across America to achieve conservation goals that have wide support. And Californias TNC woman explained, Theres a giant freight train coming at these areas. The cost of real estate is going up. There is leapfrog subdivision. We are trying to fight this for the people in rural communities. We are getting them tax breaks. Our policy is no net loss of public land.... For the most part we are a transparent organization.
As a former member of TNC, I wasnt buying. She was frustrated. You havent kept up with us! All you need to do is drive through the foothills of the Sierra and see whats happening. We always ask people What do you want the West to look like?
Who are they asking? People in town who send in TNC dues? Wealthy dilettantes, outdoorsmen and dudes who think Jackson Hole, Sedona, Santa Fe and Sun Valley are the Real West? The people who actually live and work in rural communities are too busy producing food and materials to respond to TNCs audacious vision of what the West should look like.
This well-paid, you-are-not-fair-and-balanced TNCer asked me to cover stories that praised their work with ranchers. She suggested the Malpai Borderlands Group in Arizona and New Mexico, the Peaveys in Idaho, and Bob Budd in Wyoming. She asked why I didnt reprint Jon Christensens New York Times story about collaboration.
She claims I havent kept up with TNC, but maybe TNC needs to keep up with Range. She and the other TNC staffersusing an operations cost of more than $400 million a yearwere too busy figuring out what the West should look like to notice that all the stories she wanted had already run in Range (WI95, SU95, WI96, WI03 and SP03).
She was, however, delighted to tell me the Brazil joke is on Range. I just hope the displaced natives in South America and people in decaying communities in the western U.S. think TNCs actions are funny.
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last page update: 03.29.05