It was my pleasure recently to spend the afternoon with Doug La Follette, Secretary of State in Wisconsin for a tour of some of his work and achievement. He holds a Ph.D. in Chemistry from Columbia, has worked as Public Affairs Director for the Union of Concerned Scientists, and has been board member of Friends of the Earth and other nonprofits. He was a member of the 1970 National Earth Day organization and continues to speak about the importance of our environment.
As La Follette shared some of his photos and memories with me in his Madison, WI office recently, it became clear that his interests are centered on the outdoors. Nature is the strong current that flows through his seemingly divergent world-wide adventures. It follows that La Follette’s “The Survival Handbook – A Strategy for Saving Planet Earth” would remain a pertinent outline for those wishing to help their state (or the Earth) improve its natural, healthy condition. And despite the 25 years since first published, the environmental issues and approaches in the book remain some of the most significant of our day.
While Doug La Follette would be the first to tell you that some of the specifics of his book may be dated, much remains sadly the same for planet Earth. This carefully crafted discourse on the true meaning of ecology, its connection to the economy and humanity’s dependence on a healthy environment deserves a place on every community leader’s bookshelf. Buy via Amazon.com
Reprinted with permission from author Chandler Van Voorhis of GreenTrees, LLC
Water has played a critical role in the formation of the United States. As President Theodore Roosevelt stated 100 years ago, in the first ever White House Conference on Conservation, “It was in Philadelphia that the representatives of all the States met for what was in its original conception merely a waterways conference; but when they had closed their deliberations the outcome was the Constitution which made the States into a Nation. The Constitution of the United States thus grew in large part out the necessity for united actions in the wise use of one of our natural resources.”
The notion of stewardship is a concept reaching deep into the annals of our history. Thomas Jefferson penned a famous letter to Madison two hundred years ago where he stated “I set out on this ground which I suppose to be self evident, ‘that the earth belongs in usufruct to the living,’ that the dead have neither powers nor rights over it.”
The concept of “usufruct” dates to Roman law. It simply means “a legal right of using and enjoying the fruits or profits of something belonging to another.” Jefferson believed in the sovereignty of the present generation. But sovereignty was tied to a responsibility that the present generation has to the future generations to whom the earth belongs.
To truly accept an obligation to the future requires a person to pursue a land ethic borne not out of the role of conqueror, but rather of trustee. Healing and restoration are being fostered by the emergence of ecosystem markets. The notion is simple. Whether it is paying a landowner to plant trees to sequester carbon or paying the landowner to restore riparian edges along Goose Creek, we learn to put a price on our clean air and our clean water.
Restoration is only starting to be integrated into the economic value system. With a price, it has value. As the liabilities of a dwindling supply of land and natural resources base increase, value and price are being assigned more and more to what has been considered to this point a “free” externality.
Theodore Roosevelt rightfully concluded, that our “resources are the final basis of national power and perpetuity” and that “it is safe to say that the prosperity of our people depends directly on the energy and intelligence with which our natural resources are used.” Roosevelt went on to say that George “Washington clearly saw that the perpetuity of the States could only be secured by union, and that the only feasible basis of union was an economic one; in other words, that it must be based on the development and use of their natural resources.”
We stand at a confluence in American history where we can create a more purposeful and natural capitalism. Conservation and restoration are best achieved when landowners, government and the markets create a partnership that enables better land management. It is through this partnership that we build equity in our land and in our neighbor.
The benefit is a result that ripples over time. A restored acre of ground will have a multiplier effect, a positive opportunity cost, in its impact downstream in sustaining water, soil, and air for space beyond the acres themselves. It is the season and the time for renewal.
Chandler Van Voorhis is Managing Partner of GreenTrees, LLC, a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America and the 2002 Recipient of the ChevronTexaco Conservation Award. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The 16-kilometer (10-mile) stretch of the Missouri River where it passes Great Falls,Montana, was once so swift, roiling, and precipitous that, in 1805, the Lewis and Clark expedition spent 11 days hauling equipment and boats on an overland portage to continue their transcontinental journey.
Earlier this year, the same fast-flowing reach again came to national attention, when the United States Supreme Court unanimously clarified the ownership of the riverbed beneath the Missouri and two other Montana rivers, the Madison and the Clark Fork.
In February’s 9-to-0 ruling — which overturned a previous decision by the Montana Supreme Court from March 2010 — the high court also asserted, emphatically, that states have the authority to protect the public’s use and enjoyment of rivers, regardless of who owns the bottom. In doing so, the U.S. Supreme Court confirmed a state’s authority to implement and enforce river safeguards to prevent interference with public use and environmental harms.
What might, at first glance, appear to be a loss for Montana has actually set a precedent to protect water as a public trust in the United States during an age when water is increasingly being viewed as a commodity.
Read more of this special to the Circle of Blue by James Olson:
The world’s rivers, the single largest renewable water resource for humans and a crucible of aquatic biodiversity, are in a crisis of ominous proportions, according to a global analysis. The report, published recently in the journal Nature, is the first to simultaneously account for the effects of impacts such as pollution, dam building, agricultural runoff, the conversion of wetlands and the introduction of exotic species on the health of the world’s rivers.
The analysis reveals a crisis – some 80% of the world’s human population lives where river waters are degraded or depleted according to the report. Some of the highest threat levels are to be found in the United States according to the researchers. The “fundamental chemistry of rivers in much of the U.S. has profoundly changed with agricultural chemicals, stormwater runoff, air pollution, high density of development and other threats,” according to Peter B. McIntyre, a professor of zoology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center for Limnology and co-author of the report. > Read More
Global threats to human water security and river biodiversity
C.J. Vorosmarty, P.B. McIntyre, M.O. Gessner, D. Dudgeon, A. Prusevich, P. Green, S. Glidden, S.E. Bunn, C.A. Sullivan, C. Reidy Liermann, and P.M. Davies
Nature 467, 555-561 (30 September 2010) doi:10.1038/nature09440
World’s Rivers in Crisis
Mississippi Interstate Cooperative Resource Association
River Crossings, Vol 19, Number 4, December 2010
Poison being used to remove fish from a section of Montana’s Cherry Creek persisted longer than expected and killed nontarget fish Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks reported recently in a press release. The statement said fish were killed in the lower seven miles of Cherry Creek, a tributary of the Madison River southwest of Bozeman. >READ MORE