In this month’s edition of Saving Land (link is external), you can read about how land trusts responded to the series of natural disasters that befell much of the country last year. As you’ll see, the first instinct of many land trusts was to help their local communities stabilize and recover. This includes the accredited Para la Naturaleza in Puerto Rico, which immediately reached out to communities surrounding its preserves to provide critical assistance following the devastation of two hurricanes.
In early February, I visited Puerto Rico to learn more about how the land trust has accelerated and deepened its community engagement efforts in the wake of these storms. Such efforts go far beyond making staff and equipment available to assist with clean-up efforts. The organization is also making sizeable grants to small-scale sustainable farmers to keep them in business, helping communities replant lost crops, and putting in motion a bold plan to plant a million trees to help reforest the island and improve its ecological health through the reintroduction of native, resilient species.
I twice had the privilege of working side-by-side with Para la Naturaleza staff and community volunteers to plant trees. This was not easy work as one site was in a dry forest setting with rocky soils. Still, I was thrilled to wield a pickaxe beside land trust staff and amazed at their strength, stamina and commitment. This also was true of their work to help a nonprofit organization that helps monitor one of the land trust’s reserves to replant cassava plants to sell to the local community. Staff were more than happy to roll up their sleeves and take part in traditional, strenuous field preparation techniques, which included using oxen and hand tools.
The Alliance’s new strategic plan asserts the Alliance’s belief that land trusts not only serve their communities, they actually build them, and the work of Para la Naturaleza is a testament to that ability. I aim to visit other land trusts this year that have similarly stepped up in the wake of last year’s storms and fires. Of course, the capacity to build communities is not limited to providing assistance in the aftermath of natural disasters or permanently protecting lands for a community’s enjoyment. Land trusts do tremendous community-based conservation every day that improves the quality of life for residents in their communities, many of whom are disadvantaged and haven’t traditionally been served by, engaged in or moved by land conservation. I look forward to telling the world about those efforts and, when possible, getting my hands dirty.
Andrew Bowman is president of the Land Trust Alliance.