Ethanol Production Starves Conservationists

The push to put more acres into grain to feed the ethanol boom seems to be pushing the price of land out of sight for conservationists, like the Nature Conservancy.

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There’s another side to our recent Whisper that the real estate downturn is aiding preservationists buying sacred land. This time it’s not a good one, though. Conservationist groups like the Nature Conservancy that seek large tracts in remote areas are competing with big-money real estate investment trusts. One reason: high energy prices fueling the push to grow ethanol crops. “Cropland is now fetching record prices due to high crop prices,” says Nature Conservancy spokesman Jim Petterson. “In fact, we’re seeing more and more marginal land and former conservation lands being farmed,” he says. REITs are jumping in, “driving up the price of land even further.” But just like the Civil War Preservation Trust, which we recently noted as a group benefiting from the land price downturn in some areas, Petterson says there are areas where it’s helping his group. "The downturn in the real estate market does have an upside in that some lands may become less expensive, especially in previously booming areas where there is now a glut of homes," he tells us. "In some states, particularly Florida, but also parts of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, the housing downturn does seem to be bringing us land acquisition opportunities. In Florida, development tends to be large in scale, so large tracts of land at the edge of developed areas--which are important to conservation--are now more available," he adds.