Book Review: Saving Species on Private Lands – Unlocking Incentives to Conserve Wildlife and Their Habitats

Lowell Baier and Christopher Spencer have given us a handbook of US programs, laws and regulations created to help individuals, families, businesses and organizations manage their lands for conservation. This new public-private paradigm builds on the century-old North American Model of Wildlife Conservation.

Saving Species on Private Lands: Unlocking Incentives to Conserve Wildlife and Their Habitats. Lowell E. Baier with Christopher E. Segal. 2020. Rowman & Littlefield. Paperbound, 6  by 9 inches (15×23 cm), 341 pages; with list of illustrations, guide to acronyms and terms, foreword (Dirk Kempethorne), introduction and chapter summaries, appendices, acknowledgements, bibliography and index. ISBN 978-1-5381-3938-7. US$28 (with promo code RLFANDF30) from rowman.com.

If the title isn’t enough to spur an American landholder to buy this field guide, perhaps the initial eight pages of kudos—from government, industry, conservation NGOs and academia—will be. But then one’s next question might be: How much land do I need to own or manage in order to make a difference? As of 2019, there were 158,168 conservation easements registered across the US, each an average of 170 acres in area. Wisely, however, the authors don’t set a bar—five acres of lush New England woodland may be as ecologically significant as 25 acres of high Nevada desert, while around our cities more and more homeowners are converting their poison-soaked lawns into cover for songbirds, honeybees, butterflies and earthworms.

Legislatively, the book extends from the 1934 Duck Stamp Act to the 2018 Farm Bill, and it is underpinned by two statistics: Some 74% of land in the Lower 48 states is privately held; and 75% of endangered species need habitat on private land for their survival. Clearly, “Voluntary private land conservation efforts have the potential, as has been repeatedly demonstrated, to restore lost wildlife populations, improve water quality and restore wetlands, reduce and eliminate air pollution and even sequester carbon emissions while still profitably producing grain, beef, timber, etc.” (See also “Hunting for Conservation Solutions,” elsewhere in this issue.)

Saving Species is dense with information but logically organized, clearly written and even, for relief, illustrated (in black and white). The contents break down into five main parts: Introduction to Proactive Wildlife Conservation on Private Land; Conservation Tools and Your Business; Incentive for Private Land Conservation: The Farm Bill; Non-Farm Bill Incentives for Private Land Conservation; and Achieving Regulatory Certainty Under the Endangered Species Act for Management of Species That Are Listed or May Become Listed.

The foreword, introduction and first 13 pages convince the reader of the rightness of this path. Chapter 2, “Case Studies in Conservation,” lights the fuse. And then Chapter 3, “Getting Started with Conservation,” begins the process of helping landowners pick their direction. Then Baier & Spencer lead us through an astonishing array of dozens (and dozens) of bills and programs from nine federal agencies (USFWS to USGS) and uncounted state, local, non-government and private organizations, all set up to help us treat land as community, not commodity. We’re not speaking of socialism here, but of doing good by doing well: Biodiversity, sustainable use, government and even capitalism can co-exist. (They must co-exist if we’re to have a future.)

In the foreword, Dirk Kempethorne—US Secretary of the Interior, Governor of Idaho and a US Senator—assures us that Lowell Baier is “the right person to write this book. . . a lawyer, successful entrepreneur, award-winning author, and has been an advisor to President George H.W. Bush and subsequent administrations on conservation policy. Lowell is the first President Emeritus of the Boone and Crockett Club, the oldest wildlife conservation organization in the United States. In 2016, Lowell received the National Wildlife Federation’s highest honor for a lifetime of conservation service.”

As the seas rise around us and the climate deteriorates, as we stagger from the pandemic to food and water shortages and into the sixth mass extinction, it is no longer enough to be grateful that we have such citizens as Lowell Baier among us—now we must, all of us, follow their lead, too. There is no room for partisanship on this matter.

Silvio Calabi is co-editor of Conservation Frontlines.