Entitled to the Resources?|
The American West would be a very different place today if no one had ever heard of "manifest destiny." The phrase, coined by a politician in 1840, expressed an obvious (manifest) belief in the natural destiny of Americans to expand across the continent, making use of everything the land could offer.
This was a policy that found favor with 19th-century Americans. At that time, being a landowner was associated with being wealthy, independent and politically enfranchised. As a further incentive, land on the frontier was inexpensive (sometimes free).
But problems came with growing populations of settlers, and misuse of Western lands and resources. By 1907, the first director of the U.S. Forest Service, Gifford Pinchot, was trying to convince people of the need for conservation, or as he phrased it, "the wise use of resources."
One of the thorniest problems in the modern land-use debate has been the difficulty of defining "conservation."
During the late 20th century, the debate was split between "preservationists" and "conservationists." The preservationists argued for protection of species and landscapes with no changes to the ecosystem and without any resource development. In contrast, the conservationists maintained that natural resources (e.g., timber, fossil fuels, ore) could be developed on a managed, sustainable basis.
From these two core philosophies, various special-interest groups emerged, and some were extreme in their interpretations of conservation. Consider these two groups, which represent opposite ends of the debate:
The Wise Use Coalition.
The original Wise Use Movement was based on the belief that public land could be used simultaneously for several purposes: recreation, logging, mining, wildlife habitat and so on. This multiple-use conservation concept, originally advocated by Gifford Pinchot, reflected his view that nature's resources should be scientifically managed "to protect the basic productivity of the land and its ability to serve future generations."
But by 1988, the Wise Use label had been taken up by a group of loosely affiliated industrial interests that lobbied for changes in public land policies. Today this group continues to urge federal politicians to expand logging in publicly owned forests, increase livestock grazing on public lands, open national parks to mining and oil drilling, and encourage the sale of federal lands.
The Environmental Extremists.
On the opposite end of the conservation spectrum, various radical groups use revolutionary, and sometimes violent, tactics to prevent certain types of land use. While some of these groups are also engaged in land conservation, most of the high-profile activist organizations are more focused on preventing resource development. As one activist group puts it, we are "taking aggressive, no compromise stands against logging, road-building, mining and other unsustainable resource extraction activities in wild places."
The first radical environmental group, "Earth First!", was formed in 1980. In 1992, when Earth First! decided to abandon criminal activities, a splinter group formed. This new group, called the Earth Liberation Front (ELF), has engaged in arson, spiking, equipment sabotage, and the use of explosive devices. These tactics are used against organizations that ELF believes are anti-environment. ELF's arson targets have included BLM wild-horse corrals near Burns and the U.S. Forest Industries Office in Medford, Oregon.
Finding the Middle Ground
Although there are groups on both ends of the spectrum, it's important to remember that there is no single group that has all the answers to land conservation and protection.
There are many industrial leaders who advocate complete conservation of undisturbed ecosystems, permanently protecting resources from development. There are also many environmentalists who realize that society has legitimate needs for timber, aluminum and other resources.
While land trusts are not the only avenue for land protection or restoration, trusts do fill a very important niche in the conservation movement. Above all, trusts have the flexibility to build consensus among stakeholders, helping to bridge the chasm between developers and environmentalists.
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