Chevron Conservation Award letter from Thomas Bailey, Little Traverse Conservancy, honoring Dr. John H. Tanton

Little Traverse Conservancy
Michigan's Land Trust
3204 Powell Road, Harbor Springs, Michigan 49740

November 29, 1989

Chevron Conservation Awards Committee P.O. Box 7753
San Francisco, CA 94120-7753

Distinguished Committee Members:

I appreciate this opportunity to support the nomination of Dr. John Tanton for the Chevron Conservation Award.

For five years, I have served as Executive Director of the Little Traverse Conservancy, one of nearly 800 land trusts in the United States working to protect natural land and open space. Our organization is older than most land trusts, having been founded in 1972 by John Tanton with help from several other people of vision in our community.

As the attachments show, the organization John Tanton founded has made great progress in its ability to preserve natural land and open space. We protect land through direct acquisition, avoiding any advocacy role in zoning and other regulatory issues; we engage in no adversarial activities, and because of the steadfast determination of John Tanton and others to maintain this approach, have won the respect of virtually our entire community. We are respected by the community and by the people from whom we have obtained land because we are, as we like to put it, conservationists who put our money where our mouth is. As witness to the success of this approach in transcending the tired stereotypes of environmental "good guys versus bad guys," we proudly count several of our area's most prominent developers as contributors and members of our Board of Trustees.
It may seem ironic, then, that our organization was actually formed as a result of several environmental lawsuits which John Tanton brought in order to halt or modify development projects in the Little Traverse Bay area. John concluded, after seeing the time and energy required by litigation, that the area should have an organization which would play a proactive rather than reactive role in protecting natural land. He concluded that the organization should concentrate on the business of land acquisition and leave litigation and advocacy to others. He reasoned that such an organization could enjoy more broad-based support in the community than traditional environmental advocacy groups, and that the results of its work would be significant and long lasting.

He was right. Since the formation of the Conservancy in 1972, we have acquired over 2,000 acres of land in the Little Traverse Bay area. In the last five years, we have also helped local units of government obtain over $1.5 million in grant funding to acquire land for parks and nature preserves. We have established an education program which allows area school children to learn about the outdoors first hand on our nature preserves, and we have protected significant local resources.

One of our largest projects was the Colonial Point Forest, a $1.5 million project to preserve the largest and least disturbed stand of red oak trees in the Upper Great Lakes area. The forest, which had been used by the University of Michigan Biological Station for forest ecology research for over 70 years, had been purchased by a logging company. But we were able to buy the forest and protect one of the most significant scientifically documented mesic forests in the nation. The property was deeded by the Conservancy to the Biological Station, and is now part of an International Biosphere Reserve recognized by the United Nations as an outstanding resource for biological studies. Provisions in the purchase agreements for the forest allow for public access at all times, and keep the property open to hunting as well as research that will benefit not only the academic community but the forest products industry.

We are also working on a program which John Tanton personally pioneered to help the Michigan Department of Natural Resources consolidate ownership of state lands. Currently, state land ownership in some parts of northern Michigan constitutes a sort of crazy-quilt pattern as a result of most of the land coming into state ownership through tax reversion. Thanks to John's singular efforts, the Conservancy has established a program to purchase private lands desired by the state to block in state ownership from willing sellers, trade those lands to the state for surplus properties, and sell the surplus parcels, placing land back into the private sector and back on the tax rolls. The result is a more sensible pattern of ownership, and bigger blocks of property for state wildlife biologists and foresters to manage. This creates better opportunities for hunters, anglers and forest products companies who all use state-owned lands.

Other notable successes include the purchase of a half-mile of frontage on Lake Michigan with critical sand dunes and three threatened plant species, the establishment of a public park for a township which owned no public land through a lease from the Conservancy, and the purchase of a critical boglike fen which is home to the last known occurrences in Michigan of an endangered species.

Our organization's operating budget, funded exclusively by members' contributions, is now over $200,000. We have four full-time staff members and are embarking on a sophisticated program to protect natural areas and scenic views through the use of conservation easements, an effort which we expect will lead to the protection of ten times as much property as we now hold in ownership.

We have been contacted by a number of other fledgling land trusts in Michigan, Florida, Indiana and California for advice and assistance, and are recognized as a leader in the field. We are working to secure grant funding that will allow us to do even more to assist new land trusts and help the conservation cause overall. We are even beginning to receive calls from other parts of the nation--I recently served as keynote speaker at a gathering of land trusts in Florida who wanted to hear about the programs and successes of the Little Traverse Conservancy.

While recently interviewing one of our founding Trustees for a profile in our Conservancy newsletter, I asked about the early days when the Conservancy was formed. "I played a role in this, and was glad to help," he said. "But I was helping John Tanton. He had the vision, he did the work, and he's the one who really made this thing happen." Those words, I believe speak for themselves.

John's conservation work proceeds on a personal as well as an organizational level. He has taken hundreds of people on field trips on the Conservancy's behalf and on his own. He is a naturalist of considerable knowledge and is quite adept at interpreting the natural world for all people from outdoor neophytes to seasoned naturalists. John is a master storyteller, and always creates a pleasant atmosphere on his trips. He arouses curiosity, he raises people's level of consciousness, and leads people to become not only interested in the outdoors but active as well.

One final, personal, note. When I first became involved in land conservation work in Michigan's Upper Peninsula in the early 1970's, John Tanton was well known as a conservation pioneer. His leadership in forming effective organizations and his willingness to take personal action, even to the extent of filing environmental lawsuits to prevent irresponsible waste of natural resources, made him the best known figure in the grassroots conservation movement in Michigan. In my work with Upper Peninsula groups and later in our state capitol with a number of groups and conservation alliances, John Tanton's name came up time after time as a true leader and inspiration to others.

John Tanton not only inspired us, he has stayed with the cause, stayed with the organizations he created, and continues as an innovator. Two years ago he formally retired from the Board of Trustees of our Conservancy with 16 years' service, but I still get regular correspondence from him, passing on ideas for new programs based upon things he has seen elsewhere and new ideas that are the result of his own considerable intellect. He takes action to implement his ideas, carries proposals to foundations to fund them, and continues to function as a vital leader in our organization. He is a true friend of conservationists, sportsmen, naturalists, and all who love Michigan's North Country.

I am proud to serve as Executive Director of the organization John Tanton founded. I am proud to be able to work closely with him to protect natural land in the North, and I am proud to recommend him to you to receive the Chevron Conservation Award.


Thomas C. Bailey
Executive Director

Copyright 2006-2022 Dr. John H. Tanton estate