Land Use: Conservation, Preservation and the Availability of Minerals and Other Natural Resources
An editorial in the Wall Street Journal earlier this year noted that the environmental debate in this country is being defined by those environmentalists who support some type of management of our public lands and those who desire no management at all. These “no-management” radical environmentalists are the very personification of the term preservation. Preservationists wish to preserve as much of the surface as possible as ever unchanging natural areas.
Although most of us, if asked, would profess a deep concern for the environment and would want as clean an environment as anyone else, those us who wrest the minerals we need from the crust of the earth have a pragmatic view. To a geologist, with a longer view of time than most Americans, the concept that we could somehow preserve a natural area in its present state is not logical. In addition, to wish to expand public lands but allow no mining or logging on those public lands is to deny the source of the minerals that society needs, or to admit to preferring the unpredictable vagaries of non-domestic supply of the raw materials needed for our continued well-being.
Americans have a strong tradition of connection to the land, both private and public, and the number of Americans that visit our natural Parks is testimony that we recognize as a culture that there are some areas that should be preserved for the enjoyment of both present and later generations. In the strictest sense however, the National Parks are managed landscapes affording access by roads and hiking, and provide food and accommodations that range from primitive to palatial. Still, there is a clear division in mission between the National Parks and other Public Lands managed by agencies such as the National Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management.
This division was described by a character in a recent novel when the author termed the mission of the Park Service as Conservationist while that of the BLM was “multiple use” and catered to the exploiters of oil and gas, grazing and minerals.
Park Service good. BLM bad.
Similarly, I have noticed that in the last year or so that some writers in the weekly periodical Science News have avoided the term environmentalist or preservationist and used the term conservationistinstead (e.g. “….some scientists and conservationists are concerned.”). The use of the termconservation, when preservation is clearly meant is a somewhat radical departure in the traditional meaning of the two terms. If the environmental debate is to be determined by one policy or the other it might be wise to know what is meant by each.
The term conservation was established in its common usage around Teddy Roosevelt’s presidential term. The conservation philosophy of multiple use of public lands was a major force in determining natural resource policy from the late 1800’s to the 1960’s. The philosophy espouses the “wise use” of natural resources and promotes the management of forests, grazing lands, farmlands, mineral lands and wildlife preserves. This “wise use” management philosophy drove the policies of the BLM and the Forest Service.
There were those, of course, who opposed any management of public lands. Those who believed that these areas should be left totally unmanaged and in a wild state were termed preservationists. Most preservationists were hikers, and wilderness lovers who believed that some areas should be set-aside for only the most primitive recreational activities. In general, preservationists believe that Man’s management is generally harmful. Since the 1960’s the term preservationist has been synonymous with environmentalist.
Nature good. Man bad.
In raw definition, the terms are similar but have radically different end meanings. Indeed“conservation” is defined in Funk and Wagnalls collegiate dictionary as: “the preservation of natural resources as forest, fisheries etc. for economic or recreational use”. In the strictest policy applications, the term refers to the protection and management, of natural resources, and the multiple use of public lands. Agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service have traditionally been conservationists in intent and in practice.
Teddy Roosevelt recognized that there were areas in this great country that deserved to be preserved in as natural a state as possible. He established the National Parks to preserve areas of unique natural occurrence, while allowing access and accommodation to the public. He also recognized that there were more vast areas that should be secured in the Public Domain specifically to provide the minerals and timber that was required for a viable economy. Managed by the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, these public lands became areas where multiple use allowed for a variety of development that provided raw materials and natural resources to an expanding country.
It has become lately fashionable for the environmental preservationists to insist that logging has no place on our National Forests, and that grazing and mining have no place on our other Public Lands. This new drive was spectacularly manifested in the late 2000 last minute Clinton ruling to close roads on 58 million acres of national forests. These developments are scary enough but what is more ominous to me is that these same preservationists and the radical environmentalists have been calling themselves conservationists.
The need for raw materials in our society has not diminished and here in the High Desert our economy both supports and is supported by the local mining community. The High Desert mineral industry supplies over 60% of California’s total mineral production and has a large ancillary effect in our local communities. Many of our local mining operations operate at least in part on public lands, which are managed by the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management.
These agencies are constantly being assailed by preservationists masquerading as conservationists who try to promote the concept that logging in the forests or mining on public lands as “rape” of our public lands. These preservationists often employ lawsuits under the auspices of the Endangered Species Act to stop all economic activities on public lands.
Preservationists have been loosing the scientific high ground in recent years. With the current slowing economy, conservation, as a term has connotations of reasonableness, compromise and it has never lost it’s connection to the concept of multiple use. However, in our rapidly evolving political culture where terms have definite meanings and connotations, it is important to know which side of the environmental debate the debaters really represent.
A recent search for the terms preservation, conservation, and land use turned up over 15,000 documents. In general the sites found were for Lead Agencies and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO), most of whom have the term Conservation in their titles or mission statements. A quick perusal of many of these NGO sites however identifies missions as overwhelmingly preservationist. The objects of preservation range from natural landscapes, habitat, wetlands, as well as cultural landmarks.
Government or lead agency Conservation-titled groups generally manage a variety of programs that manage farmland, public lands, mineral resources, mining activities, timber harvest, watersheds, and wetlands. It is clear that regardless of the use of the term, the traditional management, and multiple-use meaning of conservation is reflected in the lead agency mission and programs while the NGO’s clearly use the term to promote preservationist agendas.
To those who have a vested interest in the environmental debate over land use management, the lesson is to be aware of the agenda of the new conservationists. Like all Americans, miners have a sense of the value of historical sites and a love and respect of our National Parks. To those who spend their lives in the industry that makes our civilization possible, to espouse the philosophy ofpreservation is to either deny the reality of the source and necessity of all raw materials or to delegate the production of natural resources to third world countries with unstable governments and weak to non-existent environmental regulations.
Ultimately, we miners, like all Americans, probably characterize ourselves as environmentalists at some level. While not wishing to unduly degrade the environment, we are well aware of the sources and trade-offs necessary to ensure a constant supply of minerals and other raw materials to our society. That’s called conservation.
Conservation is good.