Sunday, March 28, 2010

History of Forest Conservation

The conservation movement in the United States began to blossom in the early 19th century with the writings of James Fenimore Cooper, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Alexander von Humboldt, and Henry David Thoreau. Each shared a deep love and respect for nature and connected the conservation of nature with living a better life. One of the forest’s strongest advocates, John Muir, built upon the ideas of those writers and others when he developedhis views on nature, forests, and their spiritual value to people. Muir wrote in 1916, “Why should man value himself as more than a small part of the one great unit of creation?” Muir’s philosophy was to become known as the preservationist ethic, which valued nature for its intrinsic qualities. That is, nature has value whether humankind can derive a direct benefit from it or not.

Another key figure in the conservation movement was Gifford Pinchot, who became the first director of the U.S. Forest Service in 1905. Pinchot became interested in conservation as a young adult, but his education had relied on his father’s income from the timber industry. At about the same time that Muir formulated his theories on conservation, Pinchot proposed his own theory called the resource conservation ethic, which proposes that people view nature as a natural resource for their use. He stressed that this theory could work only if people used natural resources prudently to provide “the greatest good of the greatest number [of people] for the longest time.” Though Pinchot advocated making nature a commodity, he also made clear that natural resource management must serve not just the present but also future generations, so resources should be conserved and not wasted. In this way Gifford Pinchot may be said to have invented sustainable natural resource management.

The resource conservation ethic served the country well as it grew into a strong nation, despite the Great Depression in the early 1930s. Naturalist Aldo Leopold had agreed with Pinchot’s theory during his early education, but after graduating from Yale University in 1909, Leopold held less faith in the idea that nature existed only for man’s needs. In 1939 Leopold wrote in his essay “A Biotic View of the Land,” “. . . with one hand he [the biologist] points out the accumulated findings of his search for utility, or lack of utility, in this or that species; with the other he lifts the veil from a biota so complex, so conditioned by interwoven cooperations and competitions, that no man can say where utility begins or ends.” In his way, Leopold had described ecosystems and the intricate relationships among ecosystem members.

Aldo Leopold combined the early philosophies on nature with the resource conservation theory to develop the evolutionary-ecological land ethic, or simply the land ethic. The land ethic proposed that humans should be involved in land management but in a way that does not exploit the land or use up its resources. Leopold further envisioned conservationists making small improvements to nature to help biodiversity flourish. To this purpose, in 1935 Leopold teamed with two other environmentalists, Robert Marshall and Benton Mackaye, to form the Wilderness Society. The Wilderness Society today acts to protect unspoiled land while carrying out education, advocacy for the environment, and scientific studies.

Also in the 1930s, Franklin D. Roosevelt followed in the footsteps of his second cousin, Theodore Roosevelt. During Theodore Roosevelt’s two terms as president of the United States (1901–09) he led a strong push to make conservation a national priority. Theodore Roosevelt focused most of his conservation efforts on forests and wildlife, using the Forest Reserve Act of 1891 to set aside millions of acres of undisturbed land as wilderness. Almost all of the land Roosevelt protected was forest, mainly in the West and in Alaska. Franklin D. Roosevelt became president of the United States in 1933 after serving in the New York legislature as chairman of the Senate Committee on Forest, Fish, and Game. On the forests’ health at the time, he wrote, “. . . we are consuming five times as much timber as being grown. We plant in a year an area about equal to what is cut over in less than five days.” Two of Franklin Roosevelt’s landmark contributions to conservation were the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and the Soil Conservation Service. History has shown that many of the projects conducted by the CCC led to environmental harm years later, but the notion of forests as important ecosystems was still a new idea. Roosevelt’s intentions were meaningful because they urged the American public to be responsible when managing the country’s natural resources.

Today conservation biology emphasizes forests and forest ecosystems. In addition to the Wilderness Society, other organizations raise funds or awareness in the public on the immediate need to halt further destruction of forests or have put concerted efforts into purchasing forest land to take it out of the hands of the timber and mining industries. The main organizations involved in protecting forests are listed in the appendix.

Though many people in the world understand that forests are threatened, factors in society sometimes override conservation. Economics represents a dangerous direct and indirect threat to forests. Subsistence communities need to find fuel, income, and food, and they often find these things in the jungle or forest. At the same time, industries want to continually grow and to do so they need ever-increasing amounts of natural resources. Along the way, the philosophy and the politics of forest conservation have taken some interesting turns. Two U.S. presidents in the past century demonstrate how divergent the world has become toward a simple tree.

“A grove of giant redwoods or sequoias should be kept just as we keep a great or beautiful cathedral.” Theodore Roosevelt made this statement in 1919 during a time in history when the country had not yet grown into a world leader in manufacturing. Horses pulled equipment over farmlands and carried logs out of the forest. Of course, U.S. commerce would emerge in the next 40 years, and presidents increasingly depended on backing from industrialists to win elections and make economic policy. President Ronald Reagan demonstrated a great shift in how nature could be viewed, particularly if preserving nature ran counter to making products and profits. In 1966 Reagan said in a speech to the Western Wood Producers Association, “I think, too, that we’ve got to recognize that where the preservation of a natural resource like the redwoods is concerned, that there is a common sense limit. I mean, if you looked at a hundred thousand acres or so of trees—you know, a tree is a tree, how many more do you need to look at?” Then as now, savvy politicians learned that keeping businesses happy might be just as important as keeping environmentalists happy. When leaders’ decisions regarding the environment are based on economics, however, the chances increase that natural resources will lose.

Source of Information : Green Technology Conservation Protecting Our Plant Resources

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