Two women wade through the water at low tide on the inner reef of a small island just off of Walalung Village, Kosrae island, Micronesia.
Kosrae island, Micronesia Two women wade through the water at low tide on the inner reef of a small island just off of Walalung Village, Kosrae island, Micronesia. © Nick Hall

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One of the largest remaining intact forests of its type in the world, this mixed temperate forest supports a combination of conifers and broadleaf trees.
Adirondack Park One of the largest remaining intact forests of its type in the world, this mixed temperate forest supports a combination of conifers and broadleaf trees. © Blake Gordon

Member Tele-Townhall: Conservation Policy

Listen to this interactive Q&A with our conservation policy leaders on how to Speak Up for Nature. (Recorded September 15, 2020)

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Dave:

Good evening, and welcome to tonight's live Q&A with Lynn Scarlett, chief external affairs officer, and Hazel Wong, director of conservation campaigns, for The Nature Conservancy. I'm Dave Strauss, director of membership at The Nature Conservancy, and I will be your moderator tonight. Looking forward to hearing your questions. We'll get started in just a moment. Right now, we're waiting for everyone to join the call and we're expecting a strong turnout, so we'll begin shortly. This is a live event with lots of opportunity for you to ask questions and share your thoughts. If you have a question for tonight's speaker, please press zero on your telephone's keypad. Either now or at any point during the event. Your questions will help guide tonight's discussion, so please ask away.

Dave:

If you've just joined us, welcome to tonight's live Q&A with The Nature Conservancy's conservation policy leadership. We're thrilled to have Lynn Scarlett, chief external affairs officer, and Hazel Wong, director of conservation campaigns, with us tonight. They are here to talk about urgent conservation policy priorities and answer your questions. Thanks again to everyone for joining us for this live discussion. Your support means so much and I'm really glad we have a chance to connect with each other this evening. Thank for being part of our Nature Conservancy community and I hope you and your loved ones are all safe and well this evening. I'm so glad you were able to join us for this unique, live telephone town hall event.

Dave:

Our featured guests, Lynn Scarlett and Hazel Wong, have distinguished careers in conservation and public policy. We are honored to have them here to talk with you, answer your questions, and share their perspectives on The Nature Conservancy's policy agenda, working hand in hand with the tangible conservation work we're known for. Safeguarding the lands and waters and us all. Together, Lynn and Hazel lead The Nature Conservancy's policy and conservation campaigns work at all levels. As chief external affairs officer, Lynn Scarlett directs The Nature Conservancy's public policy work in the US and in the 70 countries where we operate. She is a leading expert on climate policy and is former deputy secretary and chief operating officer of the US Department of the Interior. Hazel Wong leads The Nature Conservancy's efforts to generate conservation funding by placing measures on ballots in states through the initiative or referendum process. In her longstanding tenure with The Nature Conservancy, she has helped raise over... get this... $100 billion in public funding to protect land, water, and wildlife. Thank you for joining us, Lynn and Hazel. I know your supporters will have great questions for you this evening.

Dave:

Again, if you'd like to ask a question during tonight's telephone town hall event or if you have any comments for our speakers, please press zero at any time to ask your question. We'll also have a couple chances for you to share your thoughts with a few interactive polling questions as we go along. Let me hand it over to Lynn and Hazel to welcome those who have just joined us and share a few thoughts before we open up the lines for questions. Lynn?

Lynn:

Thank you, Dave. It's really just terrific to join everybody on this call tonight and so great to be with my colleague, Hazel. Many of you are familiar with our decades-long, on-the-ground conservation work. Our policy work, in the US and around the globe, is central to advancing those efforts. Policy work helps bring conservation funding. You've just heard some of the numbers that Hazel's team has helped to rack up. Think of the recent big success in getting permanent, full funding of the land and water conservation fund. $900 million per year for conservation in perpetuity, essentially. It took us 10 years to really get over the finish line, so policy work is not easy. But policy also helps set the rules of the game. Removing barriers, for example, like prohibitions on the Army Corps of Engineers even considering nature as it looks at infrastructure investments to protect coasts. It also helps to advance incentives. Think, for example, of the farm bill and provisions in the farm bill that reward practices that protect biodiversity and improve soil health.

Lynn:

So policy... Yes, it brings money, but it removes barriers and it creates incentives. It creates rules of the game that help everybody else to march in the direction that we're trying to go. Our efforts unfold globally and they unfold in the Congress and in the states. Over many years, we've helped to bring big conservation victories in states through ballot initiatives. Hazel will talk a little bit more about that. We bring some really unique characteristics to our policy work. We're nonpartisan. We're science-informed. An organization with over 500 scientists on board. We're very solution-focused. What's the problem and how do we solve it? Sometimes I'm asked whether nonpartisanship means that we don't weigh in on tough issues and work on really defending those bedrock environmental laws. We are vigorous and assertive in defending those bedrock laws, but we use that same voice, that voice of science, solution-focused, constructive dialogue, a respectful tone, as we're assertive in saying we need these laws. We need to protect them. Here's what our science shows. We can't unravel them. So we move forward positively. We try to prevent any rollbacks.

Lynn:

With that, I want to turn to Hazel because a really important part of our work are the ballot initiatives. The other [inaudible 00:06:10] that Hazel's team does around the world... Recently, they, for example, were working in the European Union to help our European colleagues build relationships with private landowners to sort of replicate what we have in the US with conservation easements and so forth. Hazel and her team helped our Europeans do that kind of work. So, Hazel, over to you.

Hazel:

Thank you, Lynn. And hello everyone. Thank you so much for your generosity of time this evening and, of course, your support for Nature Conservancy. It truly is wonderful to be on this call and knowing that all of us share a common value and passion for protecting our natural world. As we have all seen in the past six months, this unfortunate pandemic, there is even more of an awakening by people that our natural world is important for our quality of life and overall wellbeing. So, again, thank you so much for your support and for being here. Lynn introduced me, and Dave. I'm Hazel Wong, director of global conservation campaigns, but I'm going to give you a quick background before I dig into work here. I was actually born in the Seychelles and, in many ways, I grew up outside. Whether it was playing hide and seek in the forest, hiking, or partaking in ocean and beach activities, I spent a lot of time outdoors and that was all year round. So, really, this work that I do now and how I show up, it's part of my DNA and it makes a lot of sense that I've actually been at the Conservancy now for 18 years. 18 years of both professionally and personal rewards.

Hazel:

So when people ask me, what do you do? I always happily answer, well, let me tell you. I get a paycheck for using my energy, my creativity, my passion to protect our beautiful, natural world. I will tell you that protecting our beautiful, natural world is capital intensive. It is very costly. We have to rely on private philanthropy and we also, as The Nature Conservancy and a lot of other NGOs, we have to show up and make the case to decision makers at the local, state, and federal level that they must invest in nature. Let me give you an example. The state that I live in, Nevada. It is estimated that, annually, we need 80 to 100 million dollars just for conservation. As all of you know, we have very limited public resources, and so The Nature Conservancy is part of that value system to show up and advocate on the part of nature. Data shows that 88% of on-the-ground conservation funding comes from the public sector. As much in private funds that we raise in the United States, overwhelming amount of money comes from the public sector and some of the policies Lynn mentioned earlier. The farm bill, Great Outdoors Act, and what have you. So, again, lobbying, advocating, is a fundamental part of the work that we do at The Nature Conservancy to protect the places that all of you love and hold dearly.

Hazel:

I am blessed to have a team of 10 that work with our state chapters and our partners to generate funding at the local and state level through the legislating process, but really, with a focus on ballot measures. Every election cycle, many states, counties, municipalities put questions on the ballot asking voters to support conservation financing. If you and I walked into the state capitol right now and said, "Give me $300 million for conservation," they would look at us and go, "Oh, we have education, healthcare, transportation, you name it, that is heavy competition for those dollars." However, if we walk in with our partners and we say, "Okay, we need $300 million for conservation. Let the voters decide and let the voters decide if they want to increase their own sales tax by 3/8 of one cent and that will generate $300 million a year to do the great conservation work on the ground." That is what we do and that happens often. That's what happened in Minnesota in 2008, when voters, 62%, overwhelmingly voted to tax themselves to protect nature. This money is leveraged with private money, with federal money, and local NGOs, agencies. They all do great work for conservation.

Hazel:

Let me give you a quick snapshot of what's happening this year. Things are not... As you can imagine, things are tough out there in the public landscape, so we are very lucky right now to have eight campaigns. We have three in Colorado, Clay County in Texas, Toledo, Ohio, Portland, Oregon, and two state-wide in Michigan and Montana. If all of them pass, we are looking at creating 2.2 billion dollars this election cycle. Unfortunately, we had 10.2 million dollars at stake, but California and New York will not be on the ballot because of the COVID impact. So we're looking at a much smaller take-home this election cycle, which is fine. We're very happy with the outcomes that we... well, with the measures that are on the ballot and will hopefully have a really good outcome.

Hazel:

As Dave mentioned and Lynn mentioned earlier, this body of work has been incredibly fruitful. Over 32 years, The Nature Conservancy have been advocating at the ballot box to generate funding to do the fantastic work and we are looking at $150 billion altogether. From protecting the Columbia plateaus to the Sierra Mountains, the grassland prairies, coastal wetlands... We've even put [inaudible 00:12:03] back in the river. Protected key [inaudible 00:12:05] habitats. And now when you think about national infrastructure and the changing world because of climate, we've actually, in certain places, had to rebuild because of heavier precipitation that was seen because of climate change.

Hazel:

The good news about the work that we do, also, is that we do a lot of research. If we're going to go out there and spend money on a campaign, we want to know that we can win. We do win nine out of 10 our of campaigns. Altogether, in the past 32 years, we've won 235 measures. These campaigns are sophisticated. We poll test the funding mechanism. The messages, the TV ads, direct mail, the get out the vote efforts, and more and more, we are now engaging in digital outreach as well and social outreach. But, lastly, I'm going to reiterate a point that Lynn made. In the polls and at the ballot box, we see that conservation enjoys bipartisan support. We also see time and time again that communities of color across the United States show up and vote overwhelmingly to tax themselves to support nature. It really, truly, at the end of the day... Conservation is something that unites us all and especially at this time when we need the beauty of our world to unite us. So I thank you for your time this evening and I look forward to answering your questions.

Lynn:

Thank you, Hazel, and before we turn to the questions, I just want to join Hazel in emphasizing that we understand these are challenging times. Whether it's the pandemic or hurricanes or the devastating fires that so many communities right now in the West are experiencing or the matters of social justice and racism that Hazel briefly mentioned. We all feel those struggles and feel those tensions. They seem to permeate our communities. But at the same time, I am still seeing, and we are still experiencing in our policy work, a desire to seek solutions. Just today, for example, I took part in a panel discussion on the Hill... or that is virtually on the Hill... with the Congress and others on forestry and interest in reforestation and bringing to bear that climate solution that's hidden in plain sight. Nature. And then, no sooner was that event over, I took part in an event with farmers and others on agriculture. 2000 folks in the agricultural sector wrote Congress saying, we want to be part of the climate solution. Amid the pandemic, amid the strife, amid these challenges, there is a thirst for solutions. There is a thirst for this policy action. With that, we really look forward to hearing your questions. As Hazel said, you're an incredibly important set of partners for us. So I'm going to hand this back to Dave and let's get rolling.

Dave:

Thanks, Lynn. Thanks, Hazel. I'm always impressed by the scale and scope of TNC's impact. And welcome to anyone who just joined us. It's a privilege to have Lynn Scarlett and Hazel Wong with us this evening for this live Q&A discussion on conservation policy. As a reminder, to ask a question, please press zero on your telephone keypad at any time. Again, to ask a question, please press zero on your telephone keypad. While we're waiting for our first caller, I wanted to say thank you again to everyone participating in this virtual town hall event tonight. On behalf of all our staff and scientists, I wanted to thank you for your support over the last few months as we've had to navigate changes to local events and conservation projects in your community. It's been somewhat of a challenge, but we are flexible and working through it.

Dave:

I'm honored that you chose to act on your values by entrusting The Nature Conservancy to care for the places you care about. We are united in our mission to protect the lands and waters on which all life depends, but each of us is inspired to act for different reasons, so I wanted to ask our first poll question to get a sense of why protecting nature matters to you. To respond, just press the corresponding number on your telephone keypad. The question, again, is why do you choose to help protect nature? Press one if you want to preserve beautiful lands and waters. Press two if you care about saving endangered species. Press three if you're concerned about climate change. Press four if you want to keep our natural resources healthy and clean. Press five for all of the above. And press six for other. Again, press one if you want to preserve beautiful lands and waters. Press two if you care about saving endangered species. Press three if you're concerned about climate change. Press four if you want to keep our natural resources healthy and clean. Press five for all of the above. And press six for other. Your answers will help guide our discussion and we'll have the results for you in just a bit.

Dave:

Tonight's event is meant to be a dialogue about issues that are important to you. And so, yesterday, we actually sent out an email survey asking our members and participants what question they most wanted to have answered this evening, so we'll start there with the top response. The question for Lynn and Hazel... At what level are changes in conservation and climate policy most needed right now? Locally, nationally, in the US, or globally?

Lynn:

Well, I'm tempted to sort of cheat and say all of the above. We need action at every single level. We need the ballot initiatives that Hazel is working on locally and in states. We really need US national action. I do want to press pause on that. The US has historically been a leader in conservation. In the previous administration, we've also helped to lead climate action and that in turn has a ripple effect. It joined with China in a bilateral agreement on climate and then all kinds of other nations around the world stepped up and brought about the Paris Agreement. With the US not playing that leadership role, it makes a difference. So I would really like to see the US back in the mix, back in the leadership role, but not because the US on its own can do it all, but because it can be a catalyst and a motivator and a funder of conservation work globally.

Hazel:

I would also add that, at the state level, The Nature Conservancy along with partners led with the I-1631 in Washington State in 2018. While that measure did not pass, to put a tax on carbon, it was the first ever ballot measure to attempt to put a tax on carbon that The Nature Conservancy worked on. We are also very much involved in a lot of the renewable portfolio standards at the state level. And of course the work of funding. This is something that is ongoing and it's the work of funding that we need in order to protect our forests and to also protect our wetlands and coastlines. That is something that we're constantly focused on at the state, local, and federal level.

Dave:

Great. Thanks, Hazel. Thank you, Lynn. I wanted to quickly share the results of our first poll before we get to our first live caller. I'm so happy to see that 37% of you said that you care about making sure our beautiful lands and waters are protected. As an avid hiker, I can definitely relate to that. So let's get to our first caller on the line. As a reminder, you can press zero at any time on your telephone keypad to ask a question tonight. And we have Rosie from Seattle. Rosie? How are you this evening?

Rosie:

Hi. Do I have to say anything for you to hear me?

Dave:

No, ma'am. You are ready to ask your question. Any time.

Rosie:

I was reading your wonderful article in your most recent magazine about Bristol Bay and that the permit now was denied to the Pebble Mine company to proceed with more permitting or whatever they're going to be doing. I want to know do you think we can finally breathe a sigh of relief over this or is there more to come?

Lynn:

There's more to come. We can't quite breathe a sigh of relief. For all the callers, Pebble Mine proposal in Bristol Bay, in Alaska, has been a story decades-long, where one mining company after another has tried to get permits to develop mining in an area that is globally significant for salmon, for other biodiverse, valued, very important to the fishing communities in the area. Truly, mining would be devastating. The Conservancy has long been involved. We have provided a lot of the science that has been utilized in commenting on the various permitting documents along the way. What, Rosie, you're referencing is that there is a pause. Rather than the permit going forward full speed ahead, there's a pause with the administration saying... after they were under quite a bit of pressure... that the science in the planning documents were not sufficient and they needed to go back to the drawing board. So the reason that I say it's a pause, but we can't take a final sigh of relief, is that there will be some other chapters in this story. The good news is the Conservancy is all in. We have a near term plan to continue battling any immediate permit prospects, but then a longer term plan to say, can we help with some long-term, final solutions that just takes mining out of the mix for Pebble Mine and for Bristol Bay?

Dave:

Thanks, Lynn. And thank you, Rosie, for your question. We have another caller. David from Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. David, are you with us?

David:

Yes, thank you for taking my call. We have a ballot proposal in the state of Michigan to continue to leverage tax revenues from exploration of oil and gas on public lands to protect public lands. My question is, isn't it counterproductive to support collecting taxes for gas and oil exploration to pay for public funds when that exploration will inevitably lead to burning more fossil fuels and polluting our environment?

Hazel:

Thank you for that question. It is an ongoing conversation, as you can imagine, and philosophical debate that we have at the Conservancy and in many places. The fund that you just mentioned was put in place, I want to say, in the 1970s. The year kind of shifts away from me. When that fund was put in place, what has happened over time is that instead of... They've put a cap on how much money conservation can receive and what we're trying to do... and all that money at this time... the rest of that money goes into a general fund. So what we're trying to do right now is say, okay, well, the intent of this law was to take that funding and put it for conservation. That funding is going to keep flowing right now. We're not at a point where we're going to stop oil and gas and mining for the time being. That money was promised for conservation. We would like to continue to use that money in the foreseeable future for conservation. So that's where we are right now in terms of thinking about if we don't use it for conservation, it's just going to go in the general fund for the time being.

Dave:

Thanks, Hazel. And thank you, David, for the question. We have another poll question. Many of our members are actively speaking out more on conservation policy through our online action center. I'm curious how many people have participated, so I wanted to take a minute to do a quick poll. Press one if you've signed a pledge or petition or some other policy action in our online action center, press two if you have not visited our online action center, or press three if you don't recall, but would be interested in learning more about our online action center. Again, press one if you've signed a pledge or a petition, press two if you have not visited our online action center, or press three if you do not recall, but are interested in receiving more information. So let's go back to a few more questions from folks on the phone. As a reminder, you can press zero at any time on your telephone keypad to ask questions live tonight.

Dave:

And we have William from Bainbridge Island, Washington. William, welcome. William? Are you still with us? One more shout out for William. So we are going to wait for our next caller, but in the meantime, I do have the answers to our poll. And so I wanted to quickly get you the results from the second poll, which is what I just asked. We had 25% of you said you have taken one of our policy actions. The pledges and letters to Congress that are in our online action center are chances for supporters to add their voices to critical conservation policies. It's a way for you to speak up for nature. And then we have Rocky Face from Georgia. Is that right?

Gretchen:

Yes.

Dave:

Oh! Wonderful. Oh, is this Gretchen? Gretchen from Rocky Face, Georgia.

Gretchen:

Yes.

Dave:

How are you, Gretchen? Welcome.

Gretchen:

Fine. I'm interested in hearing more about the ballot initiative in Toledo, Ohio. An area that I'm from.

Hazel:

One moment. I believe that is a metro park measure. That money will go towards park and then acquisition. I don't have the details in front of me right now, but I can definitely get back with you in the very near future. I apologize. I'm looking at my notes right now and I don't have the details on the Toledo, Ohio measure. Gretchen, let me circle right back to you, okay? Thank you.

Dave:

Thank you, Gretchen. Thank you, Hazel. And we definitely follow up. We have Karen from Alexandria, Virginia. Karen, welcome.

Karen:

Hi. Thank you so much for having me speak tonight. My question is that I've always believed that the health of people and the planet are linked. How should we use nature to prevent a future global health crisis?

Lynn:

Wow, that is such a great question and, of course, really... always having importance, but preoccupying us right now. When the pandemic really went global, the Conservancy did a deep dive look at the science linking zoonotic disease, for example, to certain agricultural and land use practices. We've looked at the relationship between nature and health and many other of those dimensions. There's several things that we're doing on that front to really help people understand that nature matters. Nature's not just nice; it's essential. It's essential for economies. It's essential for health. It's essential for communities. It's essential for biodiversity.

Lynn:

First, there are trillions of dollars being expended by governments around the world on COVID recovery. Now, the initial expenditures were mainly on issues such as unemployment and helping people that were unemployed. Immediate healthcare needs. But we see on the horizon recovery spending that is going to try and be longer term and rebuild economies. It presents a huge opportunity to say, let's not build ourselves into the past. Let's look to the future. Let's look towards a nature-positive future. Let's invest in nature. Let's change our agricultural practices in such a way that we don't continue to have land transformation. So, number one, recovery spending presents a big opportunity. We actually presented, the Conservancy, on the Hill in Washington some ideas for consideration in investing in nature to benefit people's health and the economy in the US. But we're doing similarly very active in Europe and with the EU, in Australia, in Canada, and elsewhere.

Lynn:

But in addition to that, a lot of our work that has been unfolding in cities really presents opportunities for linking nature and health. Expanding tree canopies in cities. Using nature for stormwater management. Our work on water funds to invest in landscapes outside of cities and those natural systems to actually help clean the water and deliver cleaner water into cities. All of those things link nature and health. We're learning more and more everyday about the importance of that linkage. Even mental health links to exposure to nature, for example.

Dave:

Thanks, Karen. Great question. And thank you, Lynn. Hazel, if you want to jump right in there and talk a little more about Toledo?

Hazel:

Thank you, Dave. And Gretchen, hello. I was just sharing with my colleagues here that I've been interim state director of Texas for the past few months and sometimes I have to refocus on the details. But, Gretchen, the Ohio metro park, the Toledo metro park's bond is for $160 million over the next 10 years. It is a mill property tax and it is for repair, development, land protection, maintenance of the parks and greenways in Toledo.

Dave:

Great. Thank you, Hazel. I just want to take a moment to go back to the action center, the online action center, and the importance of it as it is a voice for our members and people who are constituents of The Nature Conservancy. Hazel was instrumental with the membership team in helping launch our online action center and Lynn has personally brought our petitions to policy leaders and meetings on the Hill. So, incredibly important. I'm sure they can tell you just how much these online actions have made a difference in the work they've done. So, Lynn? Hazel?

Hazel:

I will start by saying once upon a time in my previous life, I actually worked for a state senator. We tracked phone calls and we tracked mail that we received on issues. Legislators care about what you care about, what their constituency cares about, and unless we... One of the focus that we need to do as an organization is figure out how to raise a collective voice. What we find time and time again is that people care about conservation on both sides of the aisle but it's not something that is activated at times unless we figure out a way to collectively activate it. And that's why it's so important for us to have this action center to be able to communicate to our membership and others what is happening and why you speaking up now is important for us to collectively get our voice heard as we're also actively lobbying face-to-face in the state houses and in Congress. Lynn, I'll turn it over to you.

Lynn:

Yeah, I'll just add to that. Many of us have on our minds, the recent great success of the passage of the Great American Outdoors Act, permanent funding for the land and water conservation fund that I mentioned earlier. We could not have succeeded... we and our other colleagues in other organization... without an action center. Without the voices of our members, our participants. In that effort... which took years, but really active in the last year as we tried to get across the finish line... we had tens of thousands of people respond to our action request. And it matters. The members of Congress look at that and they say, whoa, this is important to our constituents. We need to stand up and act. It really is important, Dave, so thank you for raising that.

Dave:

Absolutely. Yeah, we're asking everyone to speak up for nature and the way to do it is the online action center. You can visit at nature.org/act. So we want to get back to callers. Our next one is Richard from Hedgesville, West Virginia. Richard?

Richard:

Hello. Can you hear me?

Dave:

Yes, absolutely.

Lynn:

Yeah.

Richard:

Thank you. My question is relating to the fires that are ongoing out west. I was wondering if Nature Conservancy properties are affected by those fires and what The Nature Conservancy's policy is with regard to fire management practices. Thank you.

Lynn:

Thank you for the question. Of course, this is ongoing and so devastating to communities. To your first question, yes, there is a Nature Conservancy preserve that has been affected by the fires in Oregon. We don't know the full extent of the impact, but we do know that there have been impacts on at least one of our preserves. Some of these areas, it's not possible to get into the really understand the full extent of impacts yet. With respect to fire risk reduction, forest management, The Nature Conservancy for several decades has been very active in advancing forest health and including a program called Living with Fire, reintroducing proscribed fire onto the landscape. Many of these places, especially public lands, because of a view over many decades of Smokey the Bear put out every fire, have resulted in large overgrowth of trees and tree stand densities. These are fire-adapted ecosystems. They need some fire periodically. So we have supported something called the Healthy Forest Restoration Act. We have fire teams. We go in and help manage some of these areas to reduce that fuel load and try to reduce the risk of fires. We work with communities on creating defensible space. The communities and their participation is important.

Lynn:

I will say though that that's just one piece of the picture. Because, as you've seen in the news, climate change is contributing or exacerbating the conditions such as extended drought, very dry condition of the forest, disease outbreaks and disease outbreaks that are more extensive than they might have been. All of those make those forests tinder boxes. And so when fires strike, we sometimes get these fires of catastrophic proportions. So there are many solutions. Forest management and forest health is part of the picture, but addressing climate change is part of the picture as well. And there are a number of other interventions, working with communities, too.

Dave:

Great. Thank you, Richard, and thank you, Lynn. We've got another caller. We've got Linda Lee from Richardson, Texas. Linda Lee? Are you with us? Linda-

Linda:

Can you hear me?

Dave:

Yeah, Linda. Yeah. Awesome.

Linda:

Yes, I'm here. Well, my question is very brief because I don't want to sound defeatist. I became interested in environmental issues in 1974 and I am much older now and I'm very tired. Because I have seen so much of the wonderful things that got passed through for defense of the environment, the ecosystem, and when we were in with the Paris climate control conference. I am just wondering does The Nature Conservancy put any money into its legal forces so that we can fight some of the things that are getting thrown at us? To turn back the clock and allow robber barons to go in and cut the trees down, mine, and make the water dirty and heavy metals in the soil. Does The Nature Conservancy join with other environmental groups to sue to stop some of the things that are going on? That's my question.

Lynn:

Thank you very much and I certainly share your frustration, having also been around in 1974 and looking at all of the modern bedrock environmental laws that came foreword at that time and into the '80s. The Nature Conservancy rarely engages in litigation. We do very assertively weigh in with the rollbacks. We have weighed in, for example, on attempts to roll back the monuments. We've weighed in on the Endangered Species Act and the [inaudible 00:41:08]. We've worked in the Congress to actually help reverse or counterman some of these efforts.

Lynn:

Very occasionally, we do weigh in and particularly with amicus briefs. For example, one of the very challenging changes that occurred recently was with the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. It's an act that is a hundred years old and the administration made some changes to it that severely limited its effect. And so I was part of an amicus brief that challenged that change in the Migratory Bird Treaty Act interpretation. The good news is that round one resulted in a victory. As with so many legal cases, there's layer after layer after layer. Our California team weighed in in an amicus brief on a lawsuit pertaining to air quality issues there. It was an issue that our team there has worked on for many, many, many years and they had a particular voice and information to add. So very selectively, we do, but we try more to use our power of influence with influential voices and influential decision makers who can undo or counter these reversals as our primary path forward.

Dave:

Great. Thank you, Lynn. Really appreciate that. We are going to take another caller. We are talking Arnold from Tampa, Florida. Arnold, are you with us?

Arnold:

Yes, I am. My question has to do with the fact that this administration has been bent on destroying national parks and other public lands as well as destroying endangered species, in particular predators. What are we doing to try to counter that activity on the part of the administration? Presenting science in terms of the administration. They ignore it.

Lynn:

Science or the application of science has not been very persuasive, that's true, over the last several years. Again, we have a very vigorous bedrock environmental law defense set of priorities, so we have vigorously weighed in on the Endangered Species Act, on the National Environmental Policy Act, and proposed changes there, as I noted on the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. We try to work multiple channels. Partly, we go up to the Hill. For example, we've been working on the Hill with a lawmaker who is proposing a law that would essentially undo the changes in the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. It is a measure that is getting some traction. So we go that route sometimes. Other times, we go the route of the action center that Dave mentioned to really galvanize thousands of people to weigh in. We do that with our compatriots at other nonprofits as well. That won't necessarily change the minds of the administration, but it can galvanize other lawmakers to raise their voice and change the course of their...

Lynn:

Pebble Mine, though, which was mentioned earlier, is actually a good example where our science and our voice and weighing in with others has been effective. We were able to get [inaudible 00:45:12] on that. Along with others. We never do these things alone. The administration had to push the pause button on that one. So we try to use all the tools in the tool kit. But we try to sustain relations that we're going to need over the long haul to get things done that we need to get done. And so it's an art to be assertive, play defense, build relations, get countermanded voices, and decision makers that can undo some of the negative things that are occurring.

Dave:

Great. Thank you, Lynn, and thank you, Arnold. I really appreciate the question. Before we go to next question, I want to talk about getting outside and enjoying nature. At The Nature Conservancy, we've all been moved out of the office and into our homes and I think one of the silver linings for me is being able to get outside more frequently. I have put lots of miles on my feet, going through trails and walking my dog, and it just makes me really appreciate what we're working so hard to save. So, Lynn and Hazel, how have you been able to get outside and outdoors safely?

Hazel:

I'll just share with you that I live probably less than an eight minute drive from Red Rock National Park here in Las Vegas. The other day, I actually went and got a venti latte, took my camping chair, and just put my chair out there, put my Audible on, and sat there for about 90 minutes and just enjoyed the view. And then went for a quick hike. I thought, why not? Why not just bring my camping chair, sit there, and enjoy the view of Red Rock? So I try as much as possible to get outside and now I'm having coffee in the national park. It's my new thing.

Lynn:

I have a confession. I am a passionate birder. And so every single weekend, first days of the weekend, at 6:00 AM or so, I'm at a local, wonderful, wonderful wetland preserve, where I go birding. Usually, I walk five, six, seven miles. And if you're really interested, you can see my bird photos on Facebook.

Hazel:

And they're beautiful. It's amazing.

Dave:

Yeah, I don't know if many of you probably know that Nature Conservancy has 120 million acres of protected land throughout the country and many of it is open to the public. I'm looking forward to being able to visit some of these one day. My goal in life is to take a camper and travel the country and go visit a lot of those. I'm excited about that. Whenever that may happen. So I wanted to take a quick poll of our callers. Have you visited a Nature Conservancy preserve? Press one for yes. Press two for no. Again, have you visited a Nature Conservancy preserve? Press one for yes. Press two for no. And, now, let's go to our next caller. We have Blake from Bristol, Tennessee. Blake, welcome. Blake, are you-

Blake:

Hello?

Dave:

Blake! How are you? Is this Blake?

Blake:

Yeah, this is he.

Dave:

Well, welcome. Feel free to ask your question.

Blake:

My question is... In regard to the Paris climate agreement that was just now... the current administration had just pulled out of it... and considering that other nations had also done it as well, my question is, what will happen now to basically the environment now that that has happened and could we end up seeing ourselves in another similar Dust Bowl like we had during the 1930s?

Lynn:

So the Paris Agreement still exists. The US is the only country in the entire world that has pulled out. Other countries are still committed. They have set goals to reduce their emissions. And those countries are moving ahead. Perhaps sounding a little bit Pollyannish or like I have rose-colored glasses, I also see some other good news even in the US, which is that we're seeing an unprecedented engagement by companies saying, okay, climate is the problem. The US isn't acting. We've got to act. And they're making pledges. So Apple, Microsoft, Google, Amazon, the list goes on and on. They're accelerating and elevating their commitment. We have a big partnership with Amazon to help them invest in nature's climate solutions.

Lynn:

I get heartened when I look at the private sector, who has said, we can't wait for the Congress, we can't wait for the political leadership in the United States. We're going to power forward. I get heartened when I look at the states. Hazel may weigh in on some of our ballot initiatives on climate action at the state level. Many states are powering forward. They've said, okay, pulled out of the climate agreement federally, but we're still in. We're plowing ahead. We're setting renewable portfolio standards, energy efficiency standards. We are very involved in the northeast on a transportation and climate initiative. Now, having said that, the problem is urgent and we're nowhere near on the trajectory that we need to be. So I have great hope that the US will get back in the game at the federal level even while companies and states and cities and other countries keep tearing forward.

Hazel:

I would add, Lynn, that after we... United States... withdrew from the Paris Agreement... The US Climate Alliance is a bipartisan coalition of 25 states. 25 governors have signed on and are committed to reducing greenhouse gases. Those 25 states actually represent 55% of the US population. And so we are seeing the beauty of decentralization of power. We are seeing some actions in the states. At the end of the day, some of the states are the biggest polluters are not part of this alliance. So we do need for the United States to be part of the Paris Accord eventually again, but the good news is that there's actually state actions that are happening. Governors realize that something must be done. They have the power to do something and have signed on with the US Climate Alliance to work together to reduce greenhouse gases.

Dave:

Great. Thanks, Hazel. Thanks, Lynn. Just quickly, a brief minute for results from the poll. 49% said you have visited a Nature Conservancy preserve. I think every time I've asked that poll question, that is by far the highest, so kudos to everybody on the phone. Another caller. We have Tiffany from Salisbury, North Carolina.

Tiffany:

Hi, good evening. Thank you so much for taking my call. Listening to this conversation, I'm going to modify my question just a little bit. Because I so appreciate all the opportunities to participate at a national level politically. I'm very concerned... Even here in North Carolina, where The Nature Conservancy is doing good work around recovery and resilience, at the local and state level, those are not political issues that are addressed by candidates. So when I'm researching who to vote for, and that's one of my priorities, I'm finding it really, really difficult to pick people who are like-minded that I want to see in office. I am so convinced that we have to make this change at the local and state level if we want real change at the federal level. I know that's probably outside the purview of The Nature Conservancy, but do you know what's the best way for us to make this a local political issue? Who do we partner with locally so that politicians have to speak to these issues when they're running for office?

Hazel:

I'll take this, Lynn and Dave. This is the problem that we see time and time again. Politicians are out there polling and they're asking open-ended questions about what do you care about and people are responding the economy, now the pandemic, healthcare, education. So until this day, unfortunately, we do see climate change and the environment, what we call a secondary issue. When we poll on our issue, we isolate it. We ask questions about it. We see the numbers go up. But politicians, typically they ask open-ended questions. This is why it is incumbent upon you to outreach to your decision maker and you are telling them what you care about. Again, going back to using your voice and being active in your community and taking a stand. Because otherwise, you're absolutely right. They're asking these questions. They're not seeing it topped on the polls, so they're not talking about it. And we need to individually and collectively at The Nature Conservancy also uplift the issue. I tell you. We're in constant battle to uplift the issue. That's what we do all the time, but to your point, it is... It's rough out there. Let's just put it that way. Especially right now. With everything happening. We see it in the polling. So I encourage every single one of you to use your voice personally on this one.

Dave:

Speak up for nature. I think that's what we need to do, for sure. So we are coming towards the end, but before we wrap up, I want to ask Lynn and Hazel... If there's one thing you want our listeners to take away from this conversation, what would it be?

Lynn:

Well, if there's one thing to take away from this conversation, it would be that each and every one of you and your voice matters. It really links to the speak up for nature comment that Dave just made. It does matter. So speak up for nature. Take part in our action center, so that you have an easy way to speak up for nature. And retain some optimism. I always say, you see what you look at. We can look at headlines and things look very discouraging, but then you can look down in communities, in individual states, with other partners that we partner with, and you begin to raise hope again because you see some good conservation going on.

Hazel:

While my boss is on this phone right now, Lynn Scarlett, I also feel as if I work for every single one of you. At the end of the day, your commitment to The Nature Conservancy, your commitment to conservation, we have all in many ways have linked hands together and we, in essence, work for you. You have 4000 plus foot soldiers at The Nature Conservancy doing fantastic work and you have probably about 500 of us working in the policy arena. Well, maybe not so much 500, but quite a good bit of us altogether, touching the policy arena. And that's because of your support. That's because of how you show up and what you do in your own backyard. So thank you. Without you, there is no way we would be able to... I wouldn't be able claim all these successes by any means, so I appreciate everything that we do. And just know that we share the same values and we're working on your behalf. So thank you.

Dave:

Thanks, Lynn and Hazel. I would say from all our members to the policy team, we do have the best and we really do fight for nature. We do have one final poll question for you. If you feel like this live Q&A was informative and insightful, press one for yes, press two for no. Again, press one for yes, press two for no. We have come to an end. Thank you to everyone for joining us live for this call. I can't thank you enough for all of the support that you provide for The Nature Conservancy. We'll be following up with a survey by email, so if you're not on our email list, go to nature.org and sign up. And thanks, Lynn and Hazel so much for being our guest this evening. You both were tremendous. Unfortunately, we couldn't get to everyone's questions, but if you have an additional comment or comments, please stay on the line and you'll be able to leave a voicemail at the end of the event by pressing one. We always value your feedback. Again, thank you again for your time. Have a wonderful night.

Expand transcript
A rainbow appears above Phantom Canyon Preserve.
Phantom Canyon Preserve A rainbow appears above Phantom Canyon Preserve. © Joe Esparza/TNC

March 2020 Conservation Leader Call: Sally Jewell

Listen to this interactive Q&A with The Nature Conservancy's Interim CEO and former U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell

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