The purpose of the Conservation Committee is to keep the GCA membership well informed on current conservation issues; to promote respect for natural resources and responsibility for environmental stewardship; to encourage clubs to identify and carry out conservation work locally; to provide environmental education programs for youth and the general public; and with the Executive Committee’s approval, to work with other conservation agencies and organizations whose programs complement those of The Garden Club of America. The Conservation Committee works closely with the National Affairs and Legislation Committee. The Conservation/NAL Committee zone representatives carry the work of both committees to the clubs in their zones.
Land Use Issues in our own Backyards
Land use is local. We are all concerned about runaway development and the loss of open space in our local areas. We want to protect our wild places, rural countryside and historic and natural resources without violating the legitimate property rights of individuals. We are talking about conservation: loss of habitat for native plants, endangered species or birds and wildlife; loss of diversity of plant material; loss of trees to clean the air and unasphalted land to replenish the water supply. These issues are complicated, and people do not agree on all aspects. We, as individuals and groups, need to educate ourselves about land use issues. Then we can provide a community service by educating the public.
Identify Your Land Issues
Identify the land area that affects the quality of life in your community. Begin to understand the impact of urban sprawl on your town environmentally, aesthetically and financially.
There is a world of information available.
- GCA – The Conservation and National Affairs and Legislation (NAL) Committees study land use as well as related topics: agriculture, forests/redwoods, national parks and public lands, endangered and invasive species, air quality and toxic substances, transportation corridors and billboards, water and wetlands, and energy sources. Their reports are posted on the GCA website. The NAL Committee sponsors Legislative Update which gives timely information about issues before Congress. The Conservation Committee publishes ConWatch quarterly on current topics. GCA clubs have developed projects and hosted meetings on land use topics. Note especially what two garden clubs did (Bedford GC in New York and the Fauquier and Loudoun GC in Virginia) in the Resources Section. Check with your Zone Representative who will contact the Vice Chairs for land use on the Conservation/NAL Committees.
- Surf the web – begin with the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Smart Growth Network and National Resources Defense Council websites. Other sites are listed in the resource section.
- Talk with people in your local area.
- Take field trips – Visit the good (a preserved prairie, riding lanes) and the bad (urban sprawl, a CAFO or contained animal feeding operation). Non-profit land trusts, public agencies and advocacy groups have sites they want to show to interested groups.
- Arrange for a speaker – The same non-profit land trusts, public agencies and advocacy groups as well as universities, industry groups and developers want to give their message. Check with your GCA Zone Rep for Programs and the GCA Program Committee speaker list.
- Read and watch – The New York Times is an excellent source. ConWatch, published quarterly by the Conservation Committee, gives information on current topics being researched by the Committee across the country. Legislative Update (from NAL Committee) gives information about issues before Congress.
Assess Your Land Area
What threats are there to the quality of the environment in your area?
- Land Use – What development is permitted under your local land-use laws? What is the permitted base density, i.e. what lot size is required per dwelling unit, in your Zoning Ordinance? Is this appropriate? Are compact, walkable communities encouraged, or is development permitted to sprawl over the countryside? What incentives exist for developers to submit proposals that further the vision agreed upon for the growth of your community? Are there regional land-planning organizations in your area? Does your jurisdiction coordinate its land-use plans with a wider region? What role does your state play in local planning?
- Habitats – How are plant and animal habitats affected by land development? Are wildlife and plant species disappearing? Are invasive plants taking over the land?
- Natural and cultural resources – What significant natural and cultural resources are located in your area? Is there an inventory of these resources? How are they protected from pollution, demolition or degradation? How are sensitive areas, e.g., steep slopes, wetlands, land prone to sinkholes, etc., protected?
- Property owners – How are the legitimate rights of property owners protected? What incentives exist, through tax structure or other means for landowners to preserve your area’s significant natural or cultural resources?
- Preservation – How are open space, significant plant habitat and other wildlands preserved? How is it funded? Does your jurisdiction purchase land outright for conservation purposes? Does it have a program for Purchase-of-Development-Rights to establish permanent easements? Has there been a voter referendum to fund land preservation either through bonds or increased taxes or other means? Does your area have a Land Trust or other land preservation organizations? How are lands that have been preserved protected for future generations? Who holds and enforces easements? (Note: Easements should be held by at least two entities.)
- Transportation – How adequate is the transportation network in your area? Does it rely solely on the automobile, or is there adequate public transportation? When new roads are needed, how is the bordering land protected from sprawl? Does your area have a Rails-to-Trails program?
- Parks/Recreation/Public Facilities – Does your area have adequate parks and recreation areas, both passive (e.g. nature reserves, woodlands or hilltops, etc.) and active (e.g. ballfields, tennis courts)? Does your area have an Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance? How are necessary facilities and services such as schools, water, sewer, fire and police protection financed? Is there an adequate supply of affordable housing in your community? Are existing homeowners forced to pay increased taxes to support services for new housing developments?
- Restoration – Do your urban areas contain abandoned land? Is there a plan for their restoration? Does your jurisdiction have a Brownfields Redevelopment Plan?
- Clean Air – Is there a threat to Clean Air in your area? If so, what?
- Water Supply – Is the water supply in your area adequate for present and projected future population? How is it protected from pollution, including excess nitrates, as your area grows? How are water recharge areas protected?
- Educate your club and your community on an issue by sponsoring a forum, creating a coalition (See Bedford GC), publishing a pamphlet or distributing GCA pamphlets and slide programs (GCA’s “Not in My Garden” on invasive plants), give a tour and/or develop a study guide. Is your club familiar with the principles of “Smart Growth?” Are your Club members knowledgeable about the documents that govern land use in your jurisdiction: Master Plan, Zoning Ordinances, Zoning Map, Subdivision Ordinance, Facilities and Standards Manual? Do Club members understand the process a development proposal must go through in order to be approved? Is your Club familiar with the agencies that govern water, sewer, transportation and land use in your area? Does your jurisdiction have a Geographic Information System (GIS)? How familiar are your members with the following preservation tools: conservation easements, transferable development rights, purchase of development rights, clustering conservation subdivision design, impact fees, moratorium, phased development, proffers, requirements for environmental review, Historic District/Site review or archeological review, green belts?
- Participate in established activities – attend public hearings on land-use issues, participate in clean-up days for a local trail, attend a conservation workshop, access the Conservation and NAL Committees quarterly reports posted on the GCA website (username is “gcamember,” password is “compost”), subscribe to ConWatch, join a regional preservation organization in your area.
- Serve on community boards and work with public officials.
- Sponsor education programs, create an organization to save an historic site or to prevent clearcutting.