Commentary: Bring balance back to conservation efforts

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Smoke from an approaching wildfire looms over a home near Twisp, Wash., in August.

By Bob Williams

Today our natural resources are being loved to death with a hands-off preservation approach to actual conservation.

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 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" and not providing the needed disturbances that used to occur naturally across an unfragmented landscape that no longer exists. We need only look to our Western public forests that are now 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 South 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 shotgunning 3,600 barred owls because barred owls prey on spotted owls. This program will cost $3.5 million 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 it is used by government to encroach and obstruct private property rights, as is the spotted owl in the West.

One has to ask, If these scientists know so much, why not then translocate the barred owl from the West back to habitat in New Jersey, delist the barred owl in New Jersey, and save the spotted owl without all of the environmental disruption? There are many successful examples, 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 20 years, government policy has not saved a single spotted owl. In fact, 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 - 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 a significant loss of biodiversity, human life, and property.

Aldo Leopold, who founded the Wildlife Society in 1935 and was one of our nation's greatest conservationists, fine-tuned what conservation is and helped us understand that it is a balance of wilderness and areas that need scientific-based management to insure a "land ethic" that should change us from a "conqueror of the land community to a plain member and citizen of it." In this truly balanced approach, humans play their stewardship role actively and are not seen as intruders in 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?

Bob Williams is a certified forester with 38 years of experience as a forest manager. bob@pinecreekforestry.com