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What has happened to the conservation of our natural resources?

By Bob Williams

More than 100 years ago, folks like Teddy Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot, the first chief of the U.S. Forest Service, started a movement that brought true conservation of natural resources to the forefront of our environmental concerns. Over the last 40 years, our country has lost its conservation-based land ethic and abandoned it to an extremist preservation culture founded in political correctness.

As we have funded the protection of open spaces in the billions of dollars, we get straight “A’s” for that great effort. However, now we get straight “F’s” in providing the needed active stewardship of those natural resources. Many species are now in decline as a direct result of “preserving the land” yet not providing the needed disturbances that used to occur naturally across an un-fragmented landscape that no longer exists. We need only look to our western public forests, which are burning to the ground at an alarming rate and under the most unnatural wildfire fuel levels due to bad fire policies. That same condition now exists on the east coast in the Pinelands National Reserve in southern New Jersey. Our natural resources are being strangled by policies that make no sense.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has implemented a species management policy for the spotted owl in Washington, Oregon, and California of shot gunning 3,600 barred owls because barred owls prey on spotted owls. This program will cost 3.5 million dollars and will not save any spotted owls. Barred owls will simply repopulate those areas in time—it is Mother Nature’s way.

But it gets sillier: the barred owl is listed as a threatened species in New Jersey and is used by government to encroach and obstruct private property rights the way the spotted owl is used in the west! One has to ask, why don’t scientists translocate the barred owl from the west back to its habitat in New Jersey? The barred owl could then be delisted in New Jersey and the spotted owl could be saved in the West without all of the environmental disruption. There are many successful examples of this method, such as the translocation of the northern bobwhite quail back to New Jersey with wild quail captured in Georgia!

But it is broken government at its peak—save our natural resources by destroying them! In the past twenty years, all the government policy has not saved a single spotted owl. In fact, their populations have continued to decline annually with no hope in sight. There is only one solution, and that is true conservation — getting back to what was provided more than 100 years ago and managing our resources to optimize their ecological integrity with the best science of the day.

Finger pointing, blaming, obstructing policy decisions, and court hearings are allowing us to simply preside over the demise of most of our forest resources. We are only seeing the beginning of the future mega fires that will result in the significant loss of biodiversity, human life, and property.

Aldo Leopold, founder of the Wildlife Society in 1935 and one of our nation’s greatest conservationist, fine-tuned what conservation is and helped us understand that it is a balance of wilderness and areas that need scientific-based management to ensure a “land ethic” that should change us from a “conqueror of the land community to a plain member and citizen of it.” A truly balanced approach in which humans play their stewardship role actively and are not seen as intruders or abusers of the natural world we all need to survive in. We need another Aldo Leopold. Where will she or he come from today?

If anyone asks me what they should do about this situation, I would advise the following: First, get involved. Join an organization of your choice, contact and pressure folks in charge of national resource management decisions, as well as political leaders, and be RELENTLESS about it. The world is ruled by those who show up!

Bob Williams, President of Pine Creek Forestry, is a Certified Forester with 38 years of experience as a forest manager. bob@pinecreekforestry.com

TimberWest November/December 2013

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