The Meaning of a Mission
by Wayne Attoe
The Greenspace mission statement reads: "The North Coast area of San Luis Obispo County is a national treasure. Greenspace will protect and enhance its ecological systems, cultural resources and marine habitats through land acquisition and management, public education and advocacy."
Annually the Greenspace directors review the organization’s mission statement to confirm and occasionally update it. While some elements of the mission would be expected of a land trust—like protecting and enhancing ecological systems, public education—a few might be a surprise.
The Greenspace board is committed to ‘advocacy’ on behalf the environment. This means taking a stand when public or private policies and practices threaten the local forest, creeks, open space or habitat. Some people get riled up when we do this. In our defense I say that we try very hard to make sure the stands we take are based in environmental law.
When we say ‘no’ to something it’s because a state law says no. Or local ordinances say no. Or federal law says no. When we say ‘respect the conservation easement’ it’s to remind people that restrictions meant to protect and enhance a piece of land have been voluntarily by agreed to the owner, and in most cases paid for with taxpayer money. Making exceptions is a slippery slope. Fortunately when we do take a stand based on law, we usually get more cheers than raspberries, and have not been tempted to abandon this element of our mission.
‘Cultural resources’ may seem an odd concern in a land trust mission statement, but we find including it is natural. For example since 2001 Greenspace has partnered with the Archeological Conservancy to acquire open space that is the site of a Native American village which is a registered California archeological site. And we seek to protect more of it.
Then too, when we bought the East Village property that has become the Greenspace Creekside Reserve, it happened to include a deteriorating building that is one of the five remaining 19th century Chinese temples in California. Here cultural and environmental resources overlapped. We determined that it could and should be saved, and with the help of many contributors complete restoration is in sight. Why should a land trust be interested in ‘marine habitats’? It’s because how we all treat our forest, open space, farm and ranch lands, and paved urbanized areas affects the water that’s shed to the ocean, and the ocean bears the consequences of our human presence.
Of course what would be expected of a land trust or conservancy is also very much what we are about, like ‘land acquisition and management’. Read about our pocket parks and preserves in The Cambrian, June 30, 2011, or on our web site. We continue to be excited about protecting our forest and creeks through ownership and management of land.
In an on-going effort that’s part of our continuing ‘public education’ program, we are making accessible reports and legal documents related to local environmental issues that otherwise might be difficult for people to find. Other ways we have tried to be informative—brochures, articles, workshops, training--can also be found on our web site.
In the fourteen years I’ve been involved with Greenspace, I’ve seen the scope of the mission statement broaden in a responsible way, yet with the same core values. I’d say the world around us has changed more than we have. Years ago some people considered us extreme, yet now we seem to be within the mainstream of thinking about treasuring California’s landscape.
Wayne Attoe is president of Greenspace-the Cambria Land Trust.