When Everybody Works Together, Nothing Trumps the ACE Basin

Integrative Resource and Environmental Management (IREM) is a concept that gets thrown around loosely. According to Slocombe and Hannah, “creating a universal definition for something as complex as IREM is difficult if not impossible.”(p.10) This is because IREM implies that competing interests need to work in unison in order to achieve a common goal. Competing interests such as NGOs, governmental agencies, private landowners and corporate entities tend to have different interests and different goals. A blueprint for the establishment of IREM as a comprehensive framework lies within the ACE basin.

The ACE basin is an estuary in South Carolina comprised of the Ashepoo, Combahee and Edisto (ACE) river basins. Shortly after Europeans discovered the ACE basin, it developed into large and productive plantations, notably rice and cotton. Thereafter, the U.S civil war significantly altered the landscape of the basin. Plantations were torched and dikes overrun. The basin returned to its ‘state of nature’ and wildlife flourished. Wealthy sportsmen from Northern states (Yankees) bought the land for hunting purposes. The old plantations were loosely maintained for hunting purposes and corn/rice became the primary crops, which waterfowl subsisted on.

Today, the ACE basin is approximately one million acres in which about 200,000 of those are protected for conservation and recreational (hunting, fishing, camping) purposes. That area is almost the size of Hong Kong. An alphabet soup of private landowners, NGOs and government agencies brought on the conservation of ACE basin. What’s remarkable about the advent of the ACE basin conservation area was in convincing wealthy landowners to contribute to its success. Private landowners, through “conservation easements”, protected significant plots of land. If a private landowner ‘gifts’ her/his land to a private organization or a public agency, then s/he can receive tax benefits. The value of the land is reduced based on the restrictions bound by conservation easements, making the idea of developing that land less savoury. This persuaded landowners, like media mogul Ted Turner and publishing magnate Gaylord Donnelley, and developers from transforming the ACE basin into another Hilton Head.

Successful conservation sites like ACE basin are based on the premise of IREM, power and persuasion. While IREM is a vague concept, it could be most effectively implemented by the powerful. It’s important to factor in power and persuasion into IREM, and into its cousin, Environmental Assessment, in order to construct an effective framework. The most effective form of power doesn’t come from governments, it comes from the owners of large corporations (i.e. Ted Turner). It’s more effective because of the influence and persuasion they generate. Ted Turner speaks the language of persuasion. Proponents of IREM and EA have to learn that language in order to effectively communicate their message and persuade people like Ted Turner to invest, emotionally and territorially, into more effective IREM and EA. It is generally not an easy task, but it can be done through tax breaks, financial incentives and propagating the instrumental and intrinsic values of IREM.

“No I don’t feel I’m a renegade. I feel I’m very mainstream” – Ted Turner

Other sources

Hanna, K.S. & D.S. Slocombe, eds. 2007. Integrated Resource and Environmental Management: Concepts and Practice. Oxford University Press, Toronto. pp. 1-20.