Habitat Reserve Problem-Solving: Desperately Seeking Sophisticated Intermediaries

By Colburn, Jamison E. | Environmental Law, Spring 2011 | Go to article overview

Habitat Reserve Problem-Solving: Desperately Seeking Sophisticated Intermediaries


Colburn, Jamison E., Environmental Law


  I. INTRODUCTION
 II. PUBLIC, PRIVATE, AND COOPERATIVE CONSERVATION: THE TOOLBOX TODAY
     A. Conservation's Structural Turn Toward the Private
     B. Why Not More Innovation in Form
III. IDENTITY CRISIS: LANDSCAPE-SCALE CONSERVATION FROM THE BOTTOM UP
     A. The Braiding of Property, Tax, Corporate, and Land Use
        Planning Law
     B. What Are Cooperative Ventures in Law, Really
 IV. WHAT TO DO ABOUT CONSERVATION'S SCALE AND IDENTITY PROBLEMS
     A. Border Patrol: Cooperative Organizational Forms that Succeed
     B. Diversifying the Concepts and Modes of Conservation
  V. CONCLUSION

I. INTRODUCTION

Coalitions, partnerships, and cooperation will always be the future of conservation. For now there is disagreement, distrust, and dissonance within the myriad and constantly-shifting arrangements we have improvised in the hopes of leveraging conservation beyond its present means. In this Article, I explore some of the problems of cooperative conservation and the obstacles that local and regional actors face today as they strive to achieve broader-scale conservation successes. The Kittatinny Ridge, an "endless mountain" to the tribes that inhabited eastern and central Pennsylvania, links New Jersey and Pennsylvania to the hills of Maryland and Virginia in a vast corridor of forested acres totaling over 500 square miles. (1) It is one of the most impressive expanses of forested space in the urbanized landscapes east of the Mississippi and it is under constant threat of more fragmentation, conversion, and degradation--whether as wildlife habitat, watershed protection, or just plain scenery. (2) The Kittatinny serves multiple functions to resident and migratory wildlife while at the same time being home, if defined broadly, to more than a million and a half people. (3) In fact, its scale is its principal challenge: it is neither local nor national nor even statewide in scale; it is regional and corridor-like. (4) Preserving its integrity, therefore, begins as an extraordinary challenge and gets harder from there.

Our liberalism, we cannot forget, entrenches an often problematic distinction between public and private, feeding what, at times, has been a rather neurotic fixation on keeping government in its place. Property in land has long been a key currency within this distinction, for good and for ill. So-called private property has been one of the bluntest instruments for ending debates about the social responsibilities we all have to take care of our common resources and of each other. (5) Conservationists take this distinction largely as they find it, (6) although the array of public/private ventures testing this boundary today is vast and still expanding. (7) Public and private have become so intertwined in some of these projects that the distinction is almost overcome.

Bending the traditional categories is a growing array of organizational makeshifts--umbrella groups that join public and private actors into nominally cooperative entities that take their actions together. (8) One of these experiments, the Kittatinny Coalition (KC), is my focus here. The KC has brought together local, regional, and national land trusts; local and state conservation agencies and advisors; major environmental nonprofits; wildlife affinity groups; wildlife scientists; and educators. (9) All of them agreed to act jointly to conserve the ridge without truly having to specify what that mission entails, what their conservation priorities are, or how to do it. (10) This Article considers the KC as an example of a habitat problem-solving intermediary that emerged several years ago, only to fall on hard times and indecision. Part II details the standard tools of conservation today. Part III describes the "braiding" of the different legal regimes that have locked these conservation tools into certain predictable but troubling patterns. Finally, Part IV suggests some work-arounds for those locked into these now familiar traps in conservation politics. …

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