In the early 1960s, landowners interested in preserving natural areas were searching for the best legal devices that might be employed to give long range protection to their property. The Foundation engaged the services of Attorney Russell L. Brenneman to prepare a handbook on the subject which it published in 1967 as Private Approaches to the Preservation of Open Land. The book received wide distribution and proved particularly useful to large land owners and members of land trusts and similar organizations. Partly as a consequence of his activity in this project, Mr. Brenneman became one of the country’s leading experts in environmental law. The book soon became outdated by numerous developments, especially in the areas of property law rights and taxation. The revision had become too costly to be funded by the Foundation, so in 1980 a proposal was developed to finance the production of a replacement. This proposal was funded by the Richard King Mellon Foundation and administered by the Conservation Law Foundation of New England. The resulting book, Land Saving Action,was published in 1984 by the Island Press. It is a compendium of articles authored by twenty-nine experts on all aspects of land conservation and covers the complete range of technical and legal issues involved in land saving.
By 1968 it had become evident that the achievement of environmental reforms through the courts might well represent one of the best hopes for getting favorable action in cases where governmental and other approaches had failed. The Environmental Defense Fund had already had litigant successes in this area. In September 1969, the Foundation underwrote the expense of a conference on Law and the Environment which was run by the Conservation Foundation at Airlie House near Warrenton, Virginia. The participants, some fifty lawyers, law professors and environmental leaders, were asked to address problems of developing a strategy and a body of common law under which far greater application of judicial process might be applied to environmental needs. The proceedings were subsequently published under the title “Law and the Environment”. Environmental law was at a primitive stage when this conference was convened. As an outgrowth, extensive environmental materials were incorporated into the curriculums of law schools, numerous environmental law associations became established on college campuses, law journals sprang up, and environmental organizations became more willing to specialize in court action.
Continuing its support of the environmental law movement, the Foundation subsequently awarded fellowships to three students preparing for careers in this field who already had good background training in biology. It helped a fourth prepare a report on legal measures that might be instituted to conserve energy in New York City.
In 1973 Congress addressed the problem of extinction by passing the Endangered Species Act. This extraordinary piece of legislation elevated the conservation of listed species above virtually all other considerations. Through the years, implementation of the Act has become a vital matter. In 1986 the Foundation helped the Environmental Law Society of the Stanford Law School fund the publication of The Endangered Species Act: A Guide to Its Protections and Implementations. This handbook, authored by Daniel J. Rohlf, has served as a basic reference for practitioners of environmental law and for citizens concerned with preservation of biological diversity.
In the international arena, the Foundation has been involved with developing environmental law in Nepal. Nepal is still in the early stages of industrialization, with relatively intact ecosystems. If development and conservation could be successfully blended, the country might provide an excellent example of sustainability to the rest of the developing world. In 1991 a small NGO, the Forum for Protection of Public Interest, was founded in Kathmandu. This organization invited Job C. Heintz, who was still a graduate student at the Vermont Law School, to organize Nepal’s Public Interest Law Firm — the first in the country. He did this and established the framework for its funding. He subsequently helped the firm by writing “environmental lessons” in United States history — mistakes that could be avoided in Nepal with proper planning. A small grant from the Foundation in 1995 enabled Heintz to return to Nepal after graduation from law school to continue to work with the new firm. In 1997 he wrote to the Foundation, “Thanks in part to your grant in the fall of 1995, the Kingdom of Nepal now possesses one of the most valuable tools in any democracy: an informed advocate for the general public.” Enclosed with his letter were reports describing activities of the Firm. One example, among the many accomplishments described, was the successful blocking of an ill-considered importation of a huge shipment of DDT for malaria control. Another was a non-confrontational negotiation with the Sri Ram Sugar Mills to reduce pollution from its operations by promoting financially advantageous industrial efficiency.