Stories from the US Land Trust Alliance Rally – Part 3

Every year, the US land conservation community meets at the “Land Trust Alliance Rally – the National Land Conservation Conference”. About 1,500 people from hundreds of organisations come together to learn, connect, and recharge. Among them: a growing number of international participants. At this year’s Rally in New Orleans, our LIFE project “European Networks for Private Land Conservation” (LIFE ENPLC) sent Anne-Sophie Mulier of the European Landowners Organization (ELO), Carolina Halevy of Eurosite and Tilmann Disselhoff of NABU to represent the European side of private land conservation at Rally. We have three stories to share. Read the third one here.
This was my seventh time at Rally, which may make me the current (or all time?) European record holder in terms of participation. When I went to Rally the first time in 2011, I was the only participant from outside America (there were 3 Canadians and a couple Chileans and Argentinians present). I have got to know Rallies as incredibly inspiring and eye-opening events. It felt good to be back after a five-year break of not being able to participate, three of which due to Covid. There was a general sense of excitement in the air, as everyone was clearly enjoying meeting in person again.
While I was a regular guest at Rally between 2011 and 2017, my latest longer absence allowed me to see recent changes in the US land conservation community more clearly than I might have as a more frequent guest. Quite obviously, the Land Trust Alliance has made great progress in becoming more diverse, inclusive, and representative of US society at large. While the level of homogeneity in skin colour, social background, age, and gender always struck me at previous Rallies (e.g. in Salt Lake City where almost all participants were white, while the service staff was exclusively black), things have changed to the better. Participants this year seemed younger (but maybe I am just getting older?), with more women and many more persons of colour (POC) in the crowd. What was unimaginable a few years ago is becoming a reality: the US conservation movement may begin to be truly representative of the communities in which it is grounded.
This rapid development is in no small part due to the LTA’s intentional focus on and honest reckoning with its own defects. I remember the former president of the LTA, Rand Wentworth, publicly bemoan the lack of diversity at Rally. His successor Andrew Bowman has taken bold steps to do something about this: For the first time, POC community and land trust leaders took the centre stage during a spectacular plenary panel discussion, where they talked about their perspectives on the whiteness of the US private land conservation movement and their status as members of ethnic minorities in this context. The next day, a new cohort of POC university students received LTA scholarships that will allow them to focus on their career, as they will not have to work alongside, and connect them to conservation practitioners across the nation. Building a generation of POC graduates in conservation studies will help make the conservation in the US more diverse.
I found these were powerful and empowering acts of intentional support for marginalised and – as keynote speaker Colette Pichon Battle of Taproot Earth, herself a POC native Louisiana indigenous called it – “invisibilised” communities. I hope that we will be able to bring about similar change to the European land conservation movement, as we suffer from the same defects of insufficient diversity, representation, and inclusiveness.


The news items collected on this blog have been written by project partners of the LIFE ENPLC project.