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.