International land conservationist: Protect land, lift poverty

Published: Monday, Oct. 1 2012 4:01 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — A leading international land conservationist said the environmental movement to safeguard scenic landscapes has to go beyond valuing land for its beauty and instead view protections as a powerful way to lift people out of poverty.

Known simply as M. Sanjayan, the lead scientist for The Nature Conservancy was in Salt Lake City on Monday to address a packed crowd at Rally 2012, the National Land Conservation Conference being held at the Salt Palace Convention Center.

For too long, he said, land conservationists have relied on their own singular worldview — one that fails to inspire the other "99 percent" who may need more convincing arguments for protecting nature than simply because it is pretty.

"There are three constituencies who the environmental movement has systematically ignored at best or despised at worst who hold the key to getting things done at the speed we want," Sanjayan said.

Chief among those constituencies, he said, is the business community, which has its own, but important, motivations for sustaining such natural resources like watersheds, which provide essential water for them to survive.

Sanjayan described a partnership in a developing country in which Coca-Cola worked in tandem with conservation organizations to bolster local drinking water supplies that made the difference between one woman's small restaurant being able to operate or fail.

Such a partnership, he added, is "long overdue."

Sanjayan, who lives in western Montana, said conservationists also need to reach out to those in the rural community who live on the "margins," such as farmers and ranchers who depend on a healthy earth for their livelihood.

While there may be fundamental and unalterable differences over topics such as wolves or other predators, Sanjayan said kinship is attainable because, in most cases, nature is the workplace that provides them with a daily living.

Finally, Sanjayan said young people are the key to keeping the conservation movement active — not only for the self-interests of stewardship to ensure clean water and clean air, but for enlisting them as one of the most savvy and technologically engaged audiences that has ever existed.

"Nature is the ultimate social network," he said, stressing it is wrong to always insist they unplug and disconnect to achieve "connectivity" with the outdoors.

Sanjayan described a venture he took with his niece to a New England aquarium. While he initially insisted she leave her tablet computer in car because it would distract her, he finally relented.

It was, ultimately, the best choice he could have made, he said.

"The pictures she took she shared with 20 classmates at her school," he said. "We need to use that technology."

The National Land Conservation Conference, which drew an estimated 1,600 participants, wraps up Tuesday.

E-mail: amyjoi@desnews.com

Twitter: amyjoi16

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