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Getting Down to Business when Business is Bad

This past week the Center for Business and the Environment at Yale hosted the 3rd annual Conservation Finance Camp. This camp consisted of 19 practitioners working on preserving natural resources through land conservation and 16 instructors brought together to determine the best ways to finance conservation. For the first time, the curriculum focused on conservation finance in a recession and capital-constrained world. Story Clark and Brad Gentry of Yale designed the new direction for the camp to create new ideas that are possible now instead of at some distant point in the future. The theme repeated over and over is what can we do now—what are the opportunities that the recession allows for at this moment? Instead of wallowing in difficult financial times, these practitioners are using the recession to reorganize strategies for their land acquisition, evaluate the effectiveness of their communications campaigns, reach out to fallen behind or small donors, and investigate new revenue streams, such as CSA’s and green cemeteries. Everyone acknowledged that donations drop for the environment during constrained financial times…but this group was optimistic and focused on making deals. Jeffry Marshall of Heritage Conservancy showed that opportunities are still available through conservation development. Peter Stein of Lyme Timber Company showed that land can be preserved sustainably with the assistance of working forest easements. The attendees representing 18 different organizations from Mt. Desert, Maine to Lima, Perú spent the week learning about these strategies and more while applying them to specific land conservation finance problems chosen by the group. Donations might be down, lending might be off, and debt might be up, but people working in land acquisition are not in despair. They are focusing on efficiency and creating new strategies to ameliorate their work. Let’s hope others experiencing the same economic frustrations are thinking as positively! --Kate Graves, Program Director