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Welcoming Dinner - Rand Wentworth

"Our Great Strength"
Welcoming Dinner Speech
October 14, 2011

Rand Rally 2011 Welcoming Dinner SpeechThis year, Alliance President Rand Wentworth addressed more than 1,200 land conservationists at the Rally Welcoming Dinner. He spoke about the endurance of land trusts and their ability to stare adversity in the eyes and supersede challenges in the reach for everlasting landscapes.

Here are some key excerpts from his speech:

"As we gather here at Rally, we are in the midst of the Great Recession, a federal budget crisis, and a wildly swinging stock market. We, too, may feel we have taken a shot to the heart. Land trusts have been hit by a decline in charitable giving and government funding. And, with the drop in real estate values, many landowners have been reluctant to donate conservation easements.

We are not alone. In 2010, 40% of charities across the country reported a decline in donations and many have had to cut budgets and reduce staff. Land trusts may soon be hit by state and local governments looking for new sources of revenue: Kansas is considering making charities pay sales taxes; Hawaii has proposed a 1% tax on nonprofits; Pennsylvania and others are considering eliminating property tax breaks for charities, which could be catastrophic for any land trust with many preserves.

With all of this bad news, I expected to see a dramatic decline in conservation activity when we tabulated the results of the National Land Trust Census for the past five years. But I am delighted to report that land trusts protected 10 million acres over the past five years, an average of 2 million acres a year. Land trusts have actually saved more land than was lost to development! Together, we have now protected a total of 47 million acres – an area 5 million acres larger than the state of Wisconsin.

This is a breathtaking accomplishment! Land trusts have demonstrated that they are tough, creative and resilient – even in hard times. At a time when many big government programs are out of money, our great strength is that we are small and local. We know our neighbors and, sitting around a kitchen table, we come to common-sense solutions to help them save their land. We work in the intimacy of a local community – a space that technology and global commerce have abandoned, but which remains rich with opportunity."

"......When we go on a long walk in nature, our worries fade. We are surrounded by birds, insects and animals that go about their business without needing anything from us. We understand that, long before our short lives, mountains erupted from the earth, rivers shaped their path, and ancient glaciers carved deep, clear lakes. We come to a knowing, deep in our bones, that we are part of an abundant and beautiful web of life. In the midst of economic turmoil, we are reminded that we could lose everything and still be wealthy beyond words.

Emerson thought walks in nature were “enchantments” that are “medicinal, they heal and sober us…We nestle in nature, and draw our living … from her roots and grains.”

The places that we conserve draw out the best in Americans – they teach generosity, endurance, patience and gratitude. I think the highest purpose of land conservation is that it gives us places where we can rediscover what it means to be fully human. A chance to slow down – to observe, in the words of Teddy Roosevelt, the “pelicans winging their way homeward across the crimson afterglow of the sunset.” He said losing those places would be “like the loss of a gallery of the masterpieces.”'

Rand Wentworth, Rally 2011

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