A Message from our CEO

© Michael Menefee

Beginning a Conversation with the Palmer Land Trust Community

 

Dear Palmer Land Trust Community,

Over the past couple of weeks, I have contemplated the events unfolding around us and witnessed the grief, sadness, frustration, and calls to action. I have read countless statements from nonprofits, individuals, and corporations condemning the systemic racism in our country. I can’t help but wonder what else I can offer to the dialogue. Much has been said articulately, eloquently, angrily, and with frustration, hope, confusion, and sadness. I feel that this, first and foremost, is a moment to listen and let the words that span the spectrum of human emotions flow over me. During this time of contemplation, I have viscerally felt all of these emotions. It is also important to contribute thoughts to this now-global conversation.

I cannot speak on the topic of racial injustice without acknowledging land conservation’s history with racism, injustice, and inequity. My own understanding of this history is relatively recent, and I am very much still listening, learning, and furthering my awareness. My hope in sharing thoughts is to begin a conversation with the Palmer Land Trust community. 

The acquisition of land in our country has historically been strongly correlated to wealth, power, and force. Land conservation as we know it today is rooted in the late 19th and early 20th century’s wealthy and elite class who established our first national parks, created important conservation organizations, and spearheaded a movement that continues today. There is much to acknowledge and appreciate for the work undertaken by these conservationists. Theodore Roosevelt is perhaps the most well-known icon of the era and was a vocal advocate for the creation of our national park system. Gifford Pinchot, a lesser known figure, was a pioneer of American forestry and served as our nation’s first Chief of the US Forest Service. Madison Grant, an influential member of the elite conservation circle of the time, helped found the Bronx Zoo, as well as numerous other conservation organizations.

The positive and lasting impact of the conservation work carried out by these men is undeniable. I also find it critical to recognize the ties these conservation founders had to racism and eugenics. Roosevelt’s racism is widely documented; Pinchot was involved in eugenics councils; and Grant is best known for his book, The Passing of the Great Race, a widely read racist treatise that justified the oppression of “inferior” races. Even naturalist John Muir, a staunch advocate for the preservation of wilderness and founder of the Sierra Club, can be named for implicitly enabling racist behavior in conservation. These founders built a legacy of conservation rooted in elevating the importance of the natural world and wildlife over the needs of certain populations of people. Nature was often “conserved” by removing people from their land, whether it be indigenous communities throughout the country or black farmers in the South, and then restricting use to predominantly elite white activities such as hunting, hiking, and camping. This is a history the conservation community has only recently started to acknowledge.

I believe it is important to know and understand history in order to chart a path for the future. We can be proud of our country’s legacy of creating public lands and conserving inspiring landscapes that we enjoy today, and simultaneously critical of how that legacy came to be. I am grateful for the conservation vision these men, and without doubt many women of the time, had; and I condemn the actions and acknowledge the pain and oppression that occurred in the realization of that vision.

Likewise, I am deeply proud of the conservation work Palmer Land Trust and our partners are undertaking today. But it is also imperative to assess how we do our work and recognize where we can do better in order to live up to the values we hold as an organization and community.

The American commentator Van Jones, known for his work at the intersection of the environment and social justice, has said, “The environment is the only thing big enough to capture all of humanity’s issues.” And indeed, it is the land of southern Colorado that holds our community’s hope, future, and humanity.

I believe in the power of land conservation to transform communities. Palmer Land Trust exists to conserve the landscape that forms the foundation of our identity as southern Coloradans, through creating parks and open spaces, conserving working farms and ranches, or protecting inspiring panoramas and remaining wild places. I believe our beautiful landscape can be a place where we come together as a community, literally and figuratively. Our mountains, our plains, our parks, and our open spaces are places that can unite. 

Palmer Land Trust is committed to charting a path for 21st century conservation for everyone in our community. This is rooted in the principle that nature is a place where everybody is welcome.

I am deeply saddened by the violent and unjust deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and too many others, and the racism that happens throughout our country on a daily basis. Discrimination of any kind has absolutely no place at Palmer Land Trust. We stand resolutely with those who seek equity, pursue inclusion, and celebrate diversity. 

As I consider the inequity, injustice, and violence facing members of our community, and as I contemplate Palmer Land Trust’s role in our community, I consider the following questions:

  • How can we look to nature for the tools and inspiration to build an inclusive community? 
  • How can land conservation serve as a vehicle for ensuring our whole community thrives? 
  • How can we work together to improve access to the abundance of nature - be it local food, recreation, or respite and solace?
  • How can we make the outdoors a safe, welcoming place for everyone? 
  • As an organization, how can we compassionately acknowledge where we have come from and chart a courageous and bold path forward together? 

Answers to these questions are not quick and simple, but I commit to asking the questions, being part of the conversation, listening, and standing with everyone in our community.

Be well,

Rebecca Jewett,
President and CEO

 

Please join the conversation by sharing your thoughts and comments with us.