Sunday, November 1, 2009

Grant Reduces Cost for ConservationTrack

By Chris Chung, Founder of Essention Group

For those who were able to join our session at the LTA Rally 2009, thanks, and I hope the chocolate was enjoyed. The demo was a lot of fun, and the conversations were great. Unfortunately, the session was not recorded, but the demo is located here We were very excited to announce that there has been a grant which will allow us to reduce both the setup and ongoing costs for ConservationTrack for small/mid size land trusts. The funding will be provided based on the following criteria:
  1. Timing, the ability to begin adopting the technology as soon as possible.
  2. Participation / Contribution, ConservationTrack is constantly evolving and growing to meet the varied needs of land trusts. We are looking for groups willing to help us expand the functionality.
  3. Capacity, although the grant can significantly reduce the monetary cost, we want to make sure the people whose participation is underwritten by the grant have enough time and focus to make it effective.
If you are interested in finding out how this might help your organization get ConservationTrack, please feel free to contact us

Thursday, October 22, 2009

My RALLY Experience, 2009

By Lynn Lozier, ConservationTrack Director
California Chapter, The Nature Conservancy

I sure enjoyed this year’s LTA Rally! I know they don’t advertize it this way so much any more, but to me it will always be “Rally”. ”Rally” just captures the spirit of the whole event. Nearly two thousand folks from all over the country got together to rub shoulders, network, learn from each other - and do a lot of cheering! The Land Trust Alliance is such an effective, and lean, service organization. It puts together a party where the best and the brightest volunteer - speaking, teaching and problem-solving with the rest of us.

Portland was an ideal venue, folks enjoyed the downtown, the breweries and the river. Being an outside girl, I signed up for the “Wheels and Water: Willamette Greenway Trail and River” field trip. Portland’s Parks and Recreation Department actually has a “City Nature Division”. Our trip’s multigenerational leadership included the newest volunteer coordinator, current head, and retired visionary leader. It’s just so cool to hear about how they got what they have, what they’ve done by way of access, replanting and restoration, and what is in the works for the future. Canoed the river (with an old gravel mine in the middle!), biked the greenway from the burbs to downtown. The demise of heavy industry has opened up space to see and be along the river, as well as some contamination challenges.

Of course, it wasn’t all play, I was one of about 150 people who actually managed to drag ourselves out of bed in time for a 7:30AM panel discussion with the IRS. Sounds like snooze material, doesn’t it? Well, not if your group has been given conservation land by people who then take a tax deduction! There was lots of good advice to pass on to land donors about what to include when they file their return: If attaching a copy of the baseline document for a donated easement will answer questions at the front end that preclude the need for further investigation by the IRS – well, that’s really good to know! The three IRSers actually understood this odd donative duck the conservation easement, and even answered questions from the audience. That’s a far cry from monosyllabic responses from the first IRS rep at Rally, four years ago! This is what I love about LTA – persistence, consistency and respectful engagement built a relationship where there wasn’t one. Great modeling for effective conservation generally. In the mean time, I vote for moving this session to a time slot when the sun has already come up!

This year I had a chance to “go deep” with a four-hour seminar on water rights in the west focusing on their inclusion in conservation easements. Half way through organizers broke us out into regional groups to work through a scenario as an exercise. The theoretical got specific pretty quickly when we looked at too much use of too little water. This is a zero-sum game. Very tough to ensure that aquatic-dependent everything (fish, vegetation, birds, and other animals including us humans) are sustained. Increasing efficiency of use is the only handle on making the same amount of water go farther. Struggling to structure that, so the legal rights to the water are not lost in the process, is what the session was about. All of this especially sobering in the face of climate change with more heat and growing water needs.

I hit a bump on the day before last when the lead presenter for a session I helped organize had to bow out due to a family health crisis. Gratefully, NOAA’s Roger Griffis, on loan to LTA, stepped in at the last minute and provided a masterful introduction to our 90 minute session on “The Use of Conservation Easements in Adapting Conservation to A Changing Climate”. He shared his optimism that locally useful projections are being developed and will be available soon. My colleague, Kirk Klausmeyer of TNC, presented a case study from coastal California in which a local tree, salamander and butterfly were evaluated relative to expected changes in heat and water availability in order to identify the most vulnerable stages of their life cycles – conditions that may be addressed in easement drafting. Finally Ann Taylor Schwing focused on conservation easement language with the foresight and flexibility to address those changes while still ensuring that conservation outcomes – even changing ones – are solidly supported in their legal context. I came out of it hopeful that, since we must act, that we will be able to do so in informed and adaptable ways.

Between sessions, I dropped by Essention’s booth showcasing ConservationTrack. We had a super location, right between the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy and Island Press – the premier publisher of books for conservation practitioners. Lots of folks stopped by to watch the demo that was running and talk about their land trust’s information management needs. We also had a good turn out in our 5:00PM “after hours session” where Matt Freeman of the Land Trust of Santa Cruz County shared his experience as one of the first small land trusts implementing ConservationTrack. We made great connections and now have excellent prospects from which to select the land trusts for subsidy in our “early adopters” group. We look forward to working with them to further refine the system for use by smaller land trusts.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

ConservationTrack session at LTA Rally 2009

October 13 at the Oregon Convention Center: 5pm in C-124.

New!!! Watch the ConservationTrack demo at

The Essention team is thrilled to share with the LTA Rally attendees all the great work our Land Trust partners are accomplishing with ConservationTrack. Just a few of the exciting areas include Opportunity/Project Management and significant new developments involving Stewardship and Monitoring.

Opportunity/Project Management is ConservationTrack’s expansion to capture the full cycle of the land protection and conservation process. Land Trusts are leveraging ConservationTrack to identify land for protection and manage all information and communication regarding the opportunity from first contact with the landowner through Board Approval for a transaction and on into and beyond the Acquisition phase. This is integrated seamlessly with Stewardship and Monitoring activities that follow aspects of ConservationTrack which have received additional focus as well. Finally, the system has been refined to support the use of LTA Standards and Practices, and has now incorporated display and linkage of GIS data.

We look forward to having you join us on Tuesday October 13 at 5pm to meet the Essention team along with our Land Trust Partners from The Nature Conservancy, Land Trust of Santa Cruz County and others. The event will take place in conference room C-124 at the Oregon Convention Center.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Retaining Institutional Knowledge for the Long Term

By Jeff Stump, Easement Program Director
Marin Agricultural Land Trust

Land trusts are unique in that there are few, if any, other organizations - public, private, not-for profit, or otherwise - which involve themselves in activities spanning time horizons that can last in perpetuity. When most organizations talk about "long term" planning, the implication is that they are looking 5 to 10 years (maybe even 20) into the future, in contrast with the nearly infinite amount of time that land trusts, like Marin Agricultural Land Trust (MALT), are required to monitor and enforce easements that they hold. Databases and records systems can provide a good tomb for the legal documents and quantitative information associated with an easement property. But how does a land trust plan to retain the essential, yet ephemeral knowledge that can be critical to maintaining good relationships with the people, community, and business interests on and around the land? Initially, computers and systems were built to manage data, but increasingly - as the tools advance and progress - they are starting to manage real knowledge. ConservationTrack® (a web-based tool developed for supporting land trusts' activities) is a new tool designed to capture and retain institutional knowledge for the long term.

MALT is in the process of capturing key knowledge from its long-time Executive Director’s head and from deep within dusty file cabinets, and storing it in an accessible yet secure fashion. We are using ConservationTrack to document and store knowledge and information regarding agricultural conservation easements acquired over the past 29 years in a secure online environment. We recognize that staff will come and go, but that knowledge, once captured in a system, goes from being tribal (i.e. information that is passed by word of mouth) to being institutional (held and managed in a way that it stays with the institution, as opposed to inside people's heads). The process for capturing knowledge is not an easy or a trivial endeavor - and it starts with a foundation of key data, such as contracts, dates, figures, and reports. Without preserving such baseline information, knowledge has no context. Once a system (even if it is a file cabinet) contains the complete core data, the fun can begin.

Storing knowledge at a given point in time can be relatively easy, in that it can be gathered through conversation and recorded in a document, diary, or even on a napkin. The challenge is to develop a process by which knowledge is captured automatically and through the course of performing day to day activities. Let’s take the easement negotiation process as an example: ConservationTrack’s real estate module allows you to copy the system as a recipient on any email. Then every conversation, easement revision, or attachment send via email will be captured and retained by the system. So, not only do we retain the proposed changes to an easement, w also retain the conversations and thus the context of the changes. This is an example where a simple change in the normal process (such as adding a ConservationTrack email address) can automatically capture the intent and history of an easement and retain it long beyond any individual’s tenure. In example like this, where technology facilitates capturing knowledge into systems, a legacy of knowledge and information can be accumulated and live on as part of the institutional memory.

Another powerful example by which technology can build strong institutional knowledge is the search. Assume that an organization has successfully captured every email, document, conversation, and thought related to a particular property and stored it in an appropriate off-site archive. If future staff is not made aware of this information, or given ready access to it, then the information essentially does not exist as there is no awareness of it. New search technologies built into ConservationTrack allow users to type in a property name or certain property attributes, and immediately receive all the relevant information about that property. Better yet, instead of having to search through boxes of files and make copies of previously copied documents, the information is delivered electronically to your desktop or even to your laptop while traveling or working at a home office.

These examples demonstrate the capabilities and functions of ConservationTrack that MALT is using to retain institutional knowledge and to make it available to staff for the long term.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

These Days, Being Green Is a Palpable Reality

Environmental benefits of online collaboration have long been known and exalted. But aside from the obvious, how does online collaboration and cloud computing really help your business become even more green? We’ll take an in-depth look at both the environmental and fiscal impacts that technology offers to organizations through a real life example of a medium-sized Northern California land trust with under 70 easements in its monitoring portfolio.

Saving the Forest? Let’s start with the most obvious – paper. The United States uses enormous amounts of paper every day – newspaper, books, bags, boxes, and of course office files (go on! – check under your desk), all are made of paper. Yes, technology has been helping organizations reduce the amount (or at least reduce the rate) of paper consumption as digitized documents and forms have become common place. As an example, by moving its land monitoring processes to the web, our land trust helped save over 8000 sheets of 8x10 paper in 2008 alone (that’s 16 reams or 80lbs of paper – roughly equivalent to 1 tree [ref] and $64 that the land trust will save.

And Our Rivers? Admittedly, $64 is not a whole lot of money, but the savings don’t end there. In the case of our land trust, the energy costs associated to produce the paper during the manufacturing process add up to 441,000 BTUs [ref] and water consumption to 19,200 gallons [ref]. Virtually all plant cooling is done by diverting river water to the paper mill to cool down the large pulp vats were the paper is being produced. After the water is used to absorb the heat from the manufacturing process, it is warmer than it was before. This warm water is dumped back into the river or stream it came from, raising the downstream temperature and thereby changing the ecosystem for all living organisms relying on this water for their livelihood.

These are the environmental and dollar costs associated with the manufacturing print paper. If we consider the entire paper supply chain – from the tree logging process to distribution to delivery to the office door – the environmental impacts add up fast! In addition to the paper, the inks used by the office printers are neither cheap nor environmentally friendly. In fact, they are quite toxic and consume large quantities of energy, water, and chemicals through the entire manufacturing process cycle.

Shipping and Travel? Let's briefly examine the standard operating procedures and behaviors of the typical land monitor. Once the monitor has completed the site visit and created a report, s/he would keep a copy of each document & photographs and send a duplicate copy to the main office. Such practice effectively results in at least twice as many sets of paper documents being created as is really necessary. In addition, the courier and shipping costs add up quickly, too, not to mention the pollution produced and the diesel consumed by the mail delivery vehicles. Since the land trust covers a wide geographical area, if the monitor needed to report to the office in person in order to file the paperwork, the monitor would face a lengthy commute, all the while spewing the global warming gases from the tail pipe.

Electronic Document Management to the Rescue? Now, some less obvious, yet very impactful considerations. Let’s say that the land trust has decided to undertake the digital leap forward. There is an important choice to be made – do it in-house or outsource. The decision to build a web-accessible portal in-house means, among other factors, setting up an entire server infrastructure of your own (don't forget having to hire personnel to manage it). A simple server farm configuration consisting of a web server (for fast upload and download time) and a database (for storing all those reports and photos) would require purchasing and maintaining two servers, with the annual power consumption in the 18,000 to 25,000 kW/yr range for each server [ref]. Add to that the heat generated by the servers and the amount of cooling power required to cool them down in order to maintain the servers at or near their operating temperatures, and the environmental impact approaches a total of 35 million BTUs annually[ref] (to the tune of $6,000 to $8,000 /yr, depending on the local electricity provider’s prices). All this electric power generation would be equivalent to dumping anywhere between 4000 and 8000 lbs of CO2 into the atmosphere [ref] each year!

There is a Better (and Greener) Way! But what if, instead, the task of managing the technology were to be handed off to a cloud provider, especially if the provider were to utilize the same number of servers (though typically fewer, due to advances in server virtualization) which it will share as a single platform among any number of land trusts, spreading the environmental footprint and costs among a large number of organizations, thereby dramatically reducing the impact on the environment compared to the scenario in which each one of the organizations sets up its own servers? Furthermore, the recent advances in virtualization technology now permit packing several “virtual” servers onto a single physical piece of hardware, cutting the cloud provider’s environmental impact even further. Virtualization technologies make it possible to run both the web server and the database server, for example, on a single physical machine.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Online Mapping Technology

Along the trend of seeing more technology services moving to the "cloud" or online, here is a cool mapping application that does not require any infrastructure:

Interesting Article on Technology and the NGO's

This article is pretty cool. It talks about the use of SharePoint to connect and help users collaborate better together. It is wonderful that Microsoft is so supportive of non-commercial entities, it would be great to see how the partner community can help to support these groups and transform technology into organizational change.