Altruism Is Alive and Well, And I Can Prove It

Phyllis - Asheville, North Carolina
Entered on May 8, 2008

I believe altruism is alive and well and I can prove it.

Hearing a steady stream of stories of runaway greed, frankly I was beginning to lose faith in my fellow man. But then I became involved with my local land trusts through the Blue Ridge Forever coalition.

Here in the North Carolina mountains, the richest temperate woodlands remaining on the planet, land trusts work with private landowners to preserve our water quality, working farms, wildlife, and the most scenically breathtaking tracts.

Protecting these places we all love is important not only to the environment, it’s also essential to maintaining our rural way of life and economy. All of that is severely threatened by population growth and poorly planned development. We are literally loving these blue ridges to death.

These days our mountain farms are growing houses, helping to make North Carolina our nation’s leader in farm loss. I don’t blame the farmers—they need to look out for their families’ welfare. Oftentimes, their land is their 401K plan. Some may consider them “land rich”, but land doesn’t put cash in your pocket UNTIL you sell it.

But sometimes, that’s not how the story ends. Land conservation organizations offer landowners other options.

In the last two years alone, 166 western North Carolina landowners volunteered either to sell their land well below its appraised value to a land conservation organization or to sign an agreement preventing certain types of development on the land forever. The land value they permanently gave up over those two years totaled $112 million!

Some of those landowners were already financially secure, but many were not. Some didn’t even earn enough income to benefit from the available conservation tax credits. Some paid tens of thousands of dollars in legal work, appraisals and surveys to ensure their land was protected for future generations to enjoy. And, some spent years in emotional discussions with family members to reach consensus that conserving it was the right thing to do.

One of those 166 amazing landowners was a family with a 206-acre farm along the New River that had been in their family for five generations. The property, which included a mile of riverfront property, was appraised at $3 million. The family could have sold the property to a developer and made out handsomely, but instead they chose to enter into a conservation agreement which reduced the property value by two-thirds. The land trust involved was able to raise money to compensate the family for some of their property’s loss in value, and guess what the family did with that money? They bought adjoining land and gave up its development rights!

When I ask landowners why they enter into these preservation agreements, their answer is always hauntingly simply, “I just couldn’t bear the thought of this special place being lost.”

So how about a cheer for all of those altruistic people out there quietly protecting land for future generations?