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The American Spirit: A Cultural Heritage With The Horse

By Kandee Haertel

This presentation from Conservation Principles for Equestrian Trail Users

Moderator: Gene W. Wood, Professor of Forest Wildlife Ecology, and Extension Trails Specialist, Clemson University, Clemson, SC

Panelists:

  • Brian Bourne, Southeast Endurance Riders Association, Notasulga, Alabama
  • Candace Bourne, Southeast Endurance Riders Association, Notasulga, Alabama
  • Helen Koehler, Sunshine State Horse Council, Morriston, Florida
  • Kandee Haertel, Executive Director, Equestrian Land Conservation Resource, Clarendon, Illinois

September 24, 2000

As the executive director of the Equestrian Land Conservation Resource, I have a bit different perspective regarding equestrian trails, conservation, and stewardship than others on this panel. It is only recently that I have found a position that actually pays me for over ten years of volunteer trails advocacy.

During those years as a volunteer, I served on the boards of numerous equestrian trails organizations as well as serving as secretary of the Illinois Chapter of Rails-to-Trails (when they still had state organizations) and spent several terms with the Illinois Conservation Congress and the associated executive committee. My "personal best" achievement was being one of the original two trailblazers of the Grand Illinois Trail, a 475-mile loop trail covering the northern portion of Illinois, for which I was awarded an Illinois Department of Natural Resources Volunteer of the Year. You can see that I've spent a lot of time on trails and in trails advocacy.

The Equestrian Land Conservation Resource

The Equestrian Land Conservation Resource was formed in 1997 by a group of individuals who were concerned that there was not enough equestrian representation in the conservation community. Land is the key to all horse activities. They were concerned that we were losing the land that every aspect of our sport, recreation, and activity that the entire equestrian community depends on for its very existence. In order to reverse this trend, they felt that education of both the equestrian and the conservation communities was vital.

This group obtained assistance from one of the largest conservation organizations in the nation - The Conservation Fund based in Washington, DC. When we became large enough, we obtained our own legal status as a 501(c)3 non-profit and opened our office doors as an independent organization.

We have very strong ties to the conservation community. Our National Council members are composed of representatives from the Land Trust Alliance, American Bird Conservancy, American Farmland Trust, The Conservation Fund, National Wildlife Refuge Association, and numerous land trusts across the country.

The Resource is built on the principles of grassroots involvement and strong partnerships. When local groups can offer common interests to a land manager, access and conservation become a much simpler issue.

Work of the Equestrian Land Conservation Resource

The difficulty that most people who want to "do something" about "something" is that they don't know where to begin. If that desire to "do something" involves horses and the land, the Equestrian Land Conservation Resource provides them with a resource to turn to. Yes, the operative word in our name is resource.

A telephone call, letter, e-mail, or fax to our national office offers them volumes of literature from government and private resources, and access to a growing network of like-minded advocates and activists who have solved similar situations. We don't claim to have all the answers, but we do have the resources to find them. Because we work with both the public and private sectors of land ownership, we have some unique avenues open to problem solving and we share them liberally with all of our constituents.

One of the most effective educational tools the Equestrian Land Conservation Resource has developed is our Equestrian Land Protection Guide. This booklet outlines steps to develop the appropriate team to make a conservation project possible, develop a manageable plan, maximize the resources (both financial and manpower), negotiate various types of agreements, build land owner/manager relationships, and plan for the future to keep what has been achieved. We recognize that this publication is not the complete answer to all questions, but it is applicable to a majority of land situations.

The Resource is our quarterly newsletter. It shares information regarding equestrian land issues across the country. Copies are available at our booth in the exhibit area if you would like one for yourself. A newsletter is the glue for a grassroots organization. If our constituency feels connected to others putting forth the same types of efforts it keeps them inspired to continue. Only this past April, the Equestrian Land Conservation resource began taking memberships. Coupled with the newsletter, the growth in membership indicates that the grassroots movement is only waiting for guidance to grow and go forward.

The Equestrian Land Conservation Resource's stewardship education program is a primary effort. The development of a national standard is not a simple one. What works for land in Florida may not be applicable in Illinois or Utah. Likewise, the Bob Marshall Wilderness is vastly different than the Midwest National Tallgrass Prairie &endash; both areas allow horseback riding. Chicago and its suburbs have vastly different user needs than the backcountry areas of our western states. In order to put together a relevant publication, a group comprised of conservationists and equestrians from all over the country will be the information review committee for this publication. Unlike many comprehensive committees, this one is expected to have a completed publication available for distribution in a relatively short time, reportedly by the end of 2002. In the meantime, regional booklets that will contain more detail pertaining to specific areas will be issued.

Our website, www.elcr.org, is undergoing tremendous change and update. A year ago, it told about the organization and presented our equestrian survey. As this is being presented, changes to make it an informative, and interesting, site are being made. There will be specific articles on issues from around the country. A calendar of events &endash; which I hope will be amazing, especially after the contacts made at this Symposium. A list of links that will be relevant to land access and conservation that is updated often. In short, a site that will make the viewer want to come back on a regular basis to see what is new.

Of immediate interest to the equestrian community are the initial results of the ongoing Equestrian Land Access Survey. These will be published in the next issue of The Resource and posted on the website. If you are interested in obtaining a copy for yourself, they are also available at the booth in the exhibit area, or see me after this talk. These results were not surprising to those of us at The Resource, but they did confirm what we have always thought we knew: Development, liability issues, and fragmentation are causing the loss of horseback riding and keeping areas and that equestrians are not going to sit back and take it. They understand how important this issue is and many of them are willing to make the effort to join in conservation efforts.

Our Conservation Survey is being initially issued at this conference. This survey will give guidance to the Stewardship Group in their work. It will also be distributed at the Land Trust Alliance Rally in Portland next month, and then go into publications nationally. The initial results from these two conference distributions will be used at the next meeting of the Stewardship Group. It, too, will be an ongoing survey to gather comments from as broad a spectrum as possible. Partnerships are the heart of the Equestrian Land Conservation Resource.

Size of the Equine Industry

The foundation for the American horse industry is 7.1 million people owning 6.9 million horses. It has an annual economic impact of $112.1 billion. In California alone, the horse industry has 720,500 participants, gives full-time employment to 124,400 people, and has an annual economic impact of $11.4 billion.

On a national scale, if only one in every ten horse owners (i.e., 710,000) became actively engaged in trail conservation, the impact on trail issues would be enormous This impact on conservation, both public and private, must be taken into account.

With respect to direct use of trails by citizens on horseback, this recreational activity has an annual economic impact of $28.3 billion, and generates 317,000 full-time jobs in addition to countless part-time jobs in this very diverse economy.

The recreational statistics are impressive, but statistics cannot tell what is actually behind the numbers. These are people who enjoy horses. People who are passionate about what they do. People who want to continue to enjoy their horses out in open spaces &endash; both public and private. People who have networks of friends and relatives. People who are putting their time and money where their mouth is.

Equine Organization Conservation Success Stories

In the last five years, Back Country Horsemen of America (BCHA) have donated 420,800 volunteer- hours, plus pack stock and in-kind services, that constitute a total value of $8,602,000 to the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and National Park Service combined. The BCHA was a leader in "putting their money where their hooves are" long before some equestrian groups were founded, including the Equestrian Land Conservation Resource.

The Caledonia Conservancy in Racine, Wisconsin was founded on the principles of conservation and partnership for equestrians. They have established their own land trust, and saved several areas from development. Possibly more importantly, they are working to maintain the rural character and activities of the area. The Caledonia Conservancy is also largely responsible for introducing smart growth initiatives to their community in the form of open space preservation and planned development.

The Conservancy has been successful to the extent that some of the subdivisions have organized well enough to have a "quick response team" that can generate sizeable attendance at critical meetings, such as zoning, in a matter of hours. This conservancy was founded by equestrians who wanted to maintain their way of life, and benefit to the community.

A woman near San Diego, California has developed a group that is conserving a farm while allowing continued use by the local U.S. Pony Club and the public. What began as one woman's determination has lead to a broad-based local coalition. Another group in southern California is saving a ranch so that it can be added to the local state park because they enjoy open space, and feel that it benefits their community as a whole.

Trail Riders of DuPage, an advocacy organization located in the metropolitan Chicago area, has worked effectively for the last several years to maintain 350 miles of public trails in one small county. To say that these trails are a special feature is to minimize their impact. These trails are almost all multi-use of highest magnitude &endash; from dog walkers, fitness joggers, and families walking to sled dogs in training with their flagged golf carts, to llama packers, in-line skaters, mountain bikers, and, of course, horseback riders.

The Virginia Horse Council is amazing in what they have accomplished for their state. The same can be said of the Florida and Maryland horse councils. Equestrian groups and land trusts across the country are working to save local areas, not only for riding, but because they appreciate the need to preserve open space.

Conclusion:

There is a need to involve today's horse owners with land conservation efforts so that they can preserve what they require to continue their diverse activities. There is also a tremendous need on the part of land conservationists to build their constituency's effectiveness. Few equestrians understand land conservation. Few land conservationists understand equestrians. This is where the Equestrian Land Conservation Resource expects to bridge this gap and thus serve both causes.

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