Private Initiatives

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Published: 
Friday, August 1, 1997

Prehistoric Pines
The sale of seedlings from the prehistoric Wollemi Pine tree has attracted the interest of environmentalists who want to save the trees from extinction, as well as investors who foresee a market for the timber.

Discovered in a deep gorge west of Sydney, Australia, in 1994, the previously unknown trees have been described as "living fossils." Their closest relatives existed at the time of the dinosaurs, 65 million to 200 million years ago.

Using cuttings and seeds from these trees, horticulturalists grew 500 seedlings that were sold to private and botanical gardens in an effort to develop a viable commercial population. Scientists expect that Wollemi Pines will be available to Australian gardeners in two to three years.

The trees, some measuring 131 feet tall and 10 feet in diameter, have also attracted the attention of the Australian forestry industry. A number of groups have expressed interest in growing the trees commercially as softwood plantation timber. Meanwhile, the exact location of the tiny stand of 39 trees with thick waxy foliage and distinctive bubbly bark is a well-guarded secret.

–Reuters

Wolf Country Burgers
While some wester ranchers have fought the reintroduction of wolves, others see a golden future to living in wolf country. A small number of ranchers in New Mexico and Arizona are so eager that they have even threatened to sue the federal government for taking too long to release the Mexican wolf.

The issue comes down to money. Some ranchers believe they can use wolves as a marketing tool. The idea originated with Defenders of Wildlife, an environmental group that has been instrumental in gaining cooperation from Montana ranchers who had opposed wolf reintroduction. Defenders has offered to stamp beef products from the region with the label "Wolf Country Beef."

The environmental group would then help ranchers market their beef and sell it at a premium to consumers who support wolf reintroduction. The same marketing strategy has been used successfully for other animals. Environmentally conscious consumers exercise their power in the marketplace when they buy products bearing labels such as "Turtle Friendly Shrimp," "Predator Friendly Wool," and "Dolphin Safe Tuna."

Jim Winder, who owns an 18,000-acre ranch in Luna County, N.M., sees other opportunities for generating income from wolves. He plans to give guided eco-tours of his ranch, which would of course include an opportunity to view wolves in their natural habitat.

–Chicago Tribune

Serving Rare Breeds
Putting some of Britain’s most endangered species on the dining table may be the best way to save them from extinction. Traditional domestic breeds of cattle, pigs, sheep and goats, some of which date back to pre-Roman times, are rapidly dwindling as farmers concentrate on the commercial breeds that are more suited to intensive production methods.

The Rare Breeds Survival Trust determined that the only way to encourage farmers to return to traditionally raised animals was to create a commercial market for their meat. Increased demand could mean survival. So far the plan has worked and the beneficiaries have been Belted Galloways, Glouster Old  Spots and Croad Langshanes, to name a few.

Unlike the animals bred by modern agriculture for leanness, quick growth, and uniformity, these breeds are distinguished by their unusual appearance and by their adaption to diverse climates, soils, and grass mixtures.

Even more important for marketing purposes is the distinctive flavor and texture of their meat. The moist, succulent chops, roasts and fillets have created a demand that far outstrips the supply. The outbreak of mad cow disease also focused the public's attention on the quality of their food as well as the importance of good feed and humane treatment for the animals.

While it appears to be a contradiction, the trust's emphasis on encouraging people to eat more endangered breeds may in fact be their salvation.

–The New York Times

Pollution Buy-Out
In an unprecedented move, one of New England’s leading conservation groups has teamed up with a Virginia-based power company to bid for 18 power plants from New England Electric, the region’s leading air polluter.

Officials with the Conservation Law Foundation of Boston said the group was tired of criticizing from the sidelines and decided to try and take control of the power plants they had been fighting for years. In cooperation with AES Corp,. Conservation Law wants to close five of the dirtiest plants, which should measurably reduce smog in the area. The group also intends to protect from development some 30,000 acres of New England Electric land. 

It is uncertain if the partnership's bid for the power plants, estimated to be worth close to $1.1 billion, will be successful. However, both groups agree that they will attempt to buy other power plants.

As the electric utility industry undergoes unprecedented restructuring, new competitors have a chance to enter the market. Douglas Foy, the foundation president, sees the opportunity to buy and either close or modify polluting power plants as a powerful new tool to clean up the environment.

–The Boston Globe

Energy Savings
Just east of Central Park on one of Manhattan's most elegant streets, a well-digger from Queens has dug two holes that are deeper than the World Trade Center is tall. The holes will tap energy that is stored in the bedrock for a new geothermal energy system to serve an $8 million building under construction on the site.

Water will be pumped in and out of the holes and then through pipes in the building to provide heating and cooling. Because the earth's temperature is stable at this depth, the water can pick up heat during the winter and dump excess heat during the summer. The benefits include no fans, cooling towers, or boilers, virtually no air pollution and a very small electric bill.

Although the system costs slightly more to install than a conventional heating and cooling system, the reduced electricity and maintenance costs should make up the difference in a short while.

Even Consolidated Edison, the company that sells electricity in New York City, was pleased with the project. In fact, it was so pleased that the building would not be drawing extra power for air conditioning during high-demand summer months that it paid the fees for the energy consultants who helped design the system.

Geothermal systems are not suitable for buildings as tall as skyscrapers, but they can be widely used in homes and businesses. They have enormous untapped potential for minimizing fuel consumption and reducing air pollution.

As for the well-digger, he has installed more than a dozen geothermal systems in the last year, and they have replaced well-digging as his main line of work.

–The New York Times

Corporate Habitat
Fulfilling a promise to “manage all corporate real estate to benefit nature," the employees of Monsanto Co. are restoring wetlands, planting native prairie and monitoring bluebirds.

The company's Life Science Research Center is located on 210 wooded acres near St. Louis, Mo. Using an in-house grant, employees formed a land­ stewardship team and have so far enlisted the volunteer help of 125 fellow employees. The group has preserved the woodland habitat for birds and animals, and restored other areas as native prairie.

Employees at other sites have also taken the company’s pledge to heart. In Columbia, Tenn., workers have restored 1,000 acres of wetlands, making them a popular bird-watching area and in Soda Springs, Idaho, employees are planting grass and trees at a former mining site. The company is doing its part as well, and recently donated 209 acres of a former plant site for a bald eagle sanctuary in Guntersville, Ala.

–Environmental News Network

Linda is responsible for the PERC web sites, media relations, the national journalism conference, and the media fellows program. She is author of Forest Fires, part of a series of  environmental education books for high school students. She also wrote and produced Square One, a newsletter that introduced grassroots environmentalists to market...
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