What the wilderness brings

From The Intelligent Optimist
Summer 2016

Amy Domini, Founder and CEO of Domini Social Investments and author of several books on ethical investing. amydomini.com

A recent trip to Southern California brought me within an hour’s drive of the famed Joshua Tree National Park, a 1,235-square-mile tract of land overseen by the U.S. National Park Service. The park is shockingly beautiful to someone who, like me, was born and lived an entire lifetime in New England. It contains unusual, even unique features of desert life, and a trip in March, as mine was, offers a heady display of cacti flowering. I found myself deeply moved by the spiritual space that a pristine piece of wilderness creates.

The park has many interesting features, one of which is that this American treasure exists because a wealthy socialite, Minerva Hamilton Hoyt, chose to become an activist, advocating for preservation of desert spaces. In fact, the American people owe her for the protection of Death Valley National Park and Anza-Borrego Desert State Park as well. It is often the case that as I stumble upon a really special place in America, I hear the same story. One person, frequently one who gets no personal benefit from his or her actions, becomes passionate about protecting a small corner of the universe and, through that passion, is successful in preserving a location full of marvel for generations to come. And always, government plays a vital role.

And so it was with great surprise that I watched the news unfold in January 2016. In a spot I’d never heard of, eastern Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, a group of individuals gathered to argue that the lands that belong to all citizens, through our National Park Service, ought to be turned over to a handful of ranchers. I immediately felt struck by this reversal of the well-known story of preservation and became curious about the Malheur’s founding. It turns out that during the 1880s, many species of American birds had been decimated because their feathers were being used on hats. Ornithologists were alarmed. And in a few short years, George Bird Grinnell founded the Audubon Society and appealed to the president of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, to set aside lands for the preservation of breeding grounds for native birds. The Malheur became one of these, as it is an important breeding area, especially for the greater sandhill crane.

So what got these individuals so riled up in January? I could understand an argument that government-owned property had crowded out ranchers, and that many people feel they need meat, and government ought to free up some land for that purpose. But in fact, the latter is already the case. The Bureau of Land Management manages 155 million acres of land set aside for livestock grazing. It awards leases for ten years at a time. The cost to the rancher is now $2.11 per month for enough forage to keep a cow and her calf alive for a year. In the meantime, the BLM spent $79.9 million in 2014 assuring that the land and water are healthy enough for grazing while collecting $12.1 million in fees. That sort of subsidy to cattle ranchers is pretty impressive.

So if ranchers actually receive subsidies to run cattle over public lands, then what was the motivation of those who chose to invade and commandeer a bird sanctuary? They appeared to expect their actions to stimulate others to occupy federal lands. To me, their ideas were quite far-fetched and certainly not desirable. National parks are a treasure for all who walk through them. Each is unique and each is under pressure. Would we even have a clue about what ocean beaches once looked like if we did not have the great national preserves like Anastasia State Park, near St. Augustine, Florida, or the Cape Cod National Seashore? With the pressures for development in Southern California, would a Joshua tree still survive? Let alone live in a namesake park?

I’ve never fallen into the anti-government category; anarchy doesn’t appeal to me much. And I’ve rarely appreciated the government as much as I do when I find myself walking through protected lands, lands waiting for you and me to enter and enjoy. I hope there isn’t any more silliness about removing the parks from federal oversight. As fewer and fewer Americans live in close proximity to pristine places, our national parks become more of a treasure, not less. The National Park Service is turning 100 years old this year. Let’s use this as a chance to celebrate what wilderness brings to us and recall that the many, working together, have preserved for all an abundance of special spots in this great land of ours. 

Solution News Source

What the wilderness brings

From The Intelligent Optimist
Summer 2016

Amy Domini, Founder and CEO of Domini Social Investments and author of several books on ethical investing. amydomini.com

A recent trip to Southern California brought me within an hour’s drive of the famed Joshua Tree National Park, a 1,235-square-mile tract of land overseen by the U.S. National Park Service. The park is shockingly beautiful to someone who, like me, was born and lived an entire lifetime in New England. It contains unusual, even unique features of desert life, and a trip in March, as mine was, offers a heady display of cacti flowering. I found myself deeply moved by the spiritual space that a pristine piece of wilderness creates.

The park has many interesting features, one of which is that this American treasure exists because a wealthy socialite, Minerva Hamilton Hoyt, chose to become an activist, advocating for preservation of desert spaces. In fact, the American people owe her for the protection of Death Valley National Park and Anza-Borrego Desert State Park as well. It is often the case that as I stumble upon a really special place in America, I hear the same story. One person, frequently one who gets no personal benefit from his or her actions, becomes passionate about protecting a small corner of the universe and, through that passion, is successful in preserving a location full of marvel for generations to come. And always, government plays a vital role.

And so it was with great surprise that I watched the news unfold in January 2016. In a spot I’d never heard of, eastern Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, a group of individuals gathered to argue that the lands that belong to all citizens, through our National Park Service, ought to be turned over to a handful of ranchers. I immediately felt struck by this reversal of the well-known story of preservation and became curious about the Malheur’s founding. It turns out that during the 1880s, many species of American birds had been decimated because their feathers were being used on hats. Ornithologists were alarmed. And in a few short years, George Bird Grinnell founded the Audubon Society and appealed to the president of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, to set aside lands for the preservation of breeding grounds for native birds. The Malheur became one of these, as it is an important breeding area, especially for the greater sandhill crane.

So what got these individuals so riled up in January? I could understand an argument that government-owned property had crowded out ranchers, and that many people feel they need meat, and government ought to free up some land for that purpose. But in fact, the latter is already the case. The Bureau of Land Management manages 155 million acres of land set aside for livestock grazing. It awards leases for ten years at a time. The cost to the rancher is now $2.11 per month for enough forage to keep a cow and her calf alive for a year. In the meantime, the BLM spent $79.9 million in 2014 assuring that the land and water are healthy enough for grazing while collecting $12.1 million in fees. That sort of subsidy to cattle ranchers is pretty impressive.

So if ranchers actually receive subsidies to run cattle over public lands, then what was the motivation of those who chose to invade and commandeer a bird sanctuary? They appeared to expect their actions to stimulate others to occupy federal lands. To me, their ideas were quite far-fetched and certainly not desirable. National parks are a treasure for all who walk through them. Each is unique and each is under pressure. Would we even have a clue about what ocean beaches once looked like if we did not have the great national preserves like Anastasia State Park, near St. Augustine, Florida, or the Cape Cod National Seashore? With the pressures for development in Southern California, would a Joshua tree still survive? Let alone live in a namesake park?

I’ve never fallen into the anti-government category; anarchy doesn’t appeal to me much. And I’ve rarely appreciated the government as much as I do when I find myself walking through protected lands, lands waiting for you and me to enter and enjoy. I hope there isn’t any more silliness about removing the parks from federal oversight. As fewer and fewer Americans live in close proximity to pristine places, our national parks become more of a treasure, not less. The National Park Service is turning 100 years old this year. Let’s use this as a chance to celebrate what wilderness brings to us and recall that the many, working together, have preserved for all an abundance of special spots in this great land of ours. 

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