Our current tools for protecting and managing land, such as conservation easements, management plans, definitions of compatible human use, and emphasis on western scientific practice, are part of our archetypal conservation framework. As such, they are tools limited by the dominant culture’s lived experiences, are not inclusive, and do not honor other ways of knowledge as equally valid. We see an opportunity to expand the scope of these tools, and perhaps co-create new ones, to restore Indigenous rights on the land where full land rematriation is not yet possible. In this session we will explore the racist and exclusionary history of conservation and conservation tools, to understand ways in which conservation practice could be expanded to restore Indigenous sovereignty, self-determination and to honor and implement Treaties as they were intended to be by the signatories.
Open Spaces for All" is an in-depth study on developing a more inclusive state park and open space system for New York. The project was conceived and spearheaded by Open Space Institute Land Trust, a New York-based conservation organization, and the New York Outdoor Recreation Coalition. This session will share the innovative approaches, strategies, and frameworks used to actively engage hundreds of community members, businesses, organizations, land professionals, agency partners, and funders statewide. Participants will hear from project leadership and discuss meaningful lessons learned to increase inclusivity and engagement, connect with communities, and broaden constituencies.
Note: This is a longer, 2.5-hour session. As community-based organizations, it’s important that land trusts are authentically and fully engaging with all members of their community. However, if a land trust lacks a deep understanding of its community’s history and the wider role conservation has played in perpetuating systemic racism and land dispossession, it is at a severe disadvantage in making important community connections. In a series of panels and breakout groups, we explore various policies and practices that created the unequal fabric of land ownership and control we see today. Come learn simple strategies to better understand your region’s history. The seminar will wrap up with a case study of a Massachusetts land trust that used local history to help guide and deepen its community-based conservation work. Come prepared to learn from a diverse group of experts, recover long-hidden stories and discuss strategies to uncover local history and apply that new knowledge to your conservation efforts.
What does conservation mean in an urban context? Can conservation principles be applied to socio-cultural considerations? Cities are subject to a confluence of factors both environmental and social. Density is the bellwether of opportunity, but drives fundamental changes to natural assets and overdraws existing ecosystems. Growth is an indicator of prosperity, but brings with it speculation, gentrification, displacement, and ultimately erasure. Community Land Trusts are a vehicle for not just the protection and preservation of land, but its residents as well. Community Land Trusts are a form for nonprofit land ownership which values communities and their assets as resources rather than commodities; supporting community agency, environmental integration, and prioritizing placemaking. Public space, land and water management, climate resilience, and sustainability are what begin to define value, rather than the realm of speculative capital. Community Land Trusts extend the sphere of conservation to include those who utilize land, rather than simply the land itself. Municipalities magnify the impacts of climate change, both environmentally and socially. Grappling with the reality of climate change means addressing both the technical problems and broader socio-economic impacts. Orienting the composition of communities toward long-term sustainable and climatically appropriate growth while also establishing a shared responsibility of investment into community well-being and sustainability enhances both the opportunity for investment within a community, as well as the opportunity for return. Conservation principles are strengthened when they apply to Community Land Trusts as they are applicable to both the land as well as the community that lives within it.
Since the 1980s, a land trust model has evolved in cities across the U.S. focused on the preservation of community-managed open spaces that are woven into the fabric of urban neighborhoods. Common uses include community gardens, neighborhood farms, sitting parks, flower gardens, and children’s play gardens. While the acreage is often small compared to traditional land trusts, the social, health, environmental, and economic benefits these spaces provide, and the economic and racial diversity of the communities they serve are deeply impactful. These impacts are made possible in large measure because of their innovative shared stewardship models. In this session, representatives of Philadelphia’s Neighborhood Gardens Trust, Chicago’s NeighborSpace, and Grassroots Gardens of Western New York will discuss their similar community-rooted models. Their land preservation projects often grow out of grassroots organizing efforts to transform underutilized land in areas that have experienced historic disinvestment and lack adequate access to green space, outdoor recreation, and healthy food. We will examine what stewardship means in the context of urban land conservation and how responsibilities are shared between the land trusts, self-organized community-based groups, and often local government entities. Once land is secured, the land trusts shoulder responsibilities that come with land ownership and enter into agreements with local stewardship groups that hold primary responsibility for day-to-day maintenance, operations and programming. The formalizing of these responsibilities serves as a catalyst for building community capacity, cohesion, and resilience. By literally “holding space” and then carefully stepping back, the land trusts facilitate a domain where local groups can have the authority.
Panelists will walk participants through the collaborative process that was carried out to protect an 18th and 19th century African Burial Ground in Kingston, New York, including a novel youth-led site design and community engagement program. Participants will learn how their own organizations can play an appropriate role in helping put land back into BIPOC hands with long term protection on the land. This workshop will present the land protection tools and approaches used for this NY case study and will highlight lessons learned to help parallel efforts navigate the nuances of cross-cultural partnerships, especially around land sovereignty, transfer of ownership and long-term protection. The process of establishing an innovative conservation easement that prioritizes cultural conservation values will be the backbone of this workshop.
This session will explore an effort in Maine to connect the conservation community with Indigenous people to expand their access to land. It will feature members of the planning team of the Wabanaki Commission on Land and Stewardship Nil yut ktahkomiq nik (the whole earth is our home) and First Light leaders. Here is a look into what land justice means and how relearning, recentering and repairing offers conservation a unique opportunity to grow and find its true promise. We will explore the work of the Wabanaki Commission and First Light to repair relationships and share land and resources between land-holding organizations and Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, Micmac and Maliseet First Nations. We will discuss what is at stake and what is to be gained through these efforts to engage differently and to share perspective and power.
Note: This workshop is a longer, 2.5-hour session. Western Reserve Land Conservancy is the result of 13 mergers of traditional land trusts that worked in predominantly white, affluent places in Northeast Ohio. In 2008 the organization began a journey to learn how to serve cities and densely urbanized places such as Cleveland. This resulted in the creation of urban programs, and a deep commitment to Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice. The mission transformation from exurban to holistic has been incredibly successful. Learn from four leaders how this evolution happened. Lessons learned. Insights gained. Friction encountered and overcome. The racial diversification of our board and staff. How to move from a charitable framework to a reciprocal framework of relationships in urban areas and distressed communities.
Community-based conservation models can infuse the identity and voice of neighborhoods into our riverfronts as a strategy to provide equitable access to long, connected stretches of clean, living, inviting rivers that run through our towns and cities. People’s pride and connection to lands and waters builds stronger advocates to steward and protect these places. Especially in underserved areas, facilitating community-led land acquisition, restoration and programming strategies can open opportunities for government agencies and municipalities to invest in and assist our most vulnerable populations to become more resilient to climate change, and to improve water quality and quality of life in places that historically have born the greatest brunt of pollution. This model is paired with development of heritage water trails, such as the African American Heritage Water Trail in Chicago’s south side, which highlights nationally significant history in one of the birthplaces of the environmental justice movement. The water trail highlights and promotes the activities and activism of local community groups, from whom the stores for the brochure were collected. Our goals are for participants to identify how they can incorporate community-driven acquisition, restoration, programming, and water trails strategies to improve river access, river health, resiliency, and equity in areas where they work. More broadly, Rally members will brainstorm how this kind of model can integrate lands and waters in populated areas – especially our underserved communities - into our strategies to adapt to and mitigate climate change, and conserve 30% of our lands and waters by 2030.
Heart of the Rockies Initiative (HOTR) is a partnership of land trusts across the Rocky Mountain West. Over the years, HOTR has come to appreciate the inextricable link between the health of the communities that dot the landscape and successful land stewardship. The conservation movement has raised a similar awareness of the need to denounce the myth of a landscape unoccupied or void of human occupation and influence. In order to embrace the interconnectedness between people and the landscape, in 2019, HOTR set out to evaluate what added value conservation organizations, and land trusts in particular, could offer local communities looking the sustain or grow their community infrastructure and transition their local economies. The HOTR Program has assisted local leaders in accessing state, federal, and private funding, to carry out community planning and infrastructure projects relating to outdoor recreation, community health and safety, revitalization, and food security. HOTR has observed that frontier communities often lack the capacity to make their community visions a reality and that there is a host of ways land trusts can be a trusted partner in community economic development.
The COVID pandemic brought unprecedented challenges for community engagement in land conservation, chief among them the inability to bring people to protected lands. Yet many of the solutions developed to overcome COVID can continue to be leveraged to increase accessibility to protected lands, adapt to the effects of climate change, and continue protecting our critical natural resources. By the nature of our work, we protect the most vulnerable and sensitive habitats in the world that are often threatened by overuse from increased access. During this session, participants will hear what we learned from the 2020 pivot to virtual programs, and the methods we developed for reducing barriers and increasing inclusivity, in addition to ideas for future applications that will preserve conservation values while advancing community engagement goals. Presenters represent a diversity of organizational structures, sizes, missions, and strategies, but all have experienced significant success in virtual conservation programs with noted increases in equitable access. Attendees will also learn about a funder’s priorities and shifts to accommodate virtual programs, an environmental education and stewardship organization’s effort to expand accessibility, and a land trust’s foray into virtual hikes and school field trips all through immersive multimedia videos, photos, and storytelling. At the end of the presentation, a resource handout will be provided with quick tips, practical advice, and best practices for anyone to implement or improve their own virtual programs.