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Norton Embraces Private Conservation Efforts
Bush administration changes focus from public to private conservation.
By Rich Jefferson
Date Posted: 6/1/2001
†Private ownership, management and conservation of natural resources will usually beat government ownership and management.
For instance, in last summerís news about the Western forest fires, there were many aspects to the story ó how the firefighters were holding up, how much it cost to fight the fires, how many acres were burned, the impact on local residents, etc.
But one piece of information I heard from several forestry folks seemed to elude reporters. It concerned fires that burned furiously on federal (mismanaged) lands until they reached private (well-managed) lands, where they stopped or at least slowed. I donít recall news accounts reporting this.
We donít hear as much in the news media about the success of private ownership, management and conservation as we should, but the Center for Private Conservation is trying to change that. The center recently sponsored its second annual Private Conservation Day event at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.
Skeet Burris, a tree farmer from Beaufort, S.C. was named the "2001 Private Conservationist of the Year." He bought a run-down farm and transformed it into a 1,000-acre model of private conservation called Cypress Bay Plantation. Burris was also named the National Outstanding Tree Farmer of the Year by the American Tree Farm System in 2000.
"We lovingly manage Cypress Bay Plantation for multiple use," Burris explained in congressional testimony last year. "By that I mean for long-term softwood production, watershed and soil protection, conservation of wildlife and wildlife habitat, and recreational use. Our management has included the creation of wetlands and ponds, wildlife food and shelter plots, and improving forest aesthetics. Itís a productive, sustainable forest thatís managed by my family ó my wife, Gail, and my five sons."
Now, thatís newsworthy. And it was really significant to see Gale Norton, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, present Burris with the award for Conservationist of the Year. Nortonís support shows how much the new administration values private conservation efforts.
"Private landowners are often the best stewards of our land," Norton
This is a wonderful change in the federal governmentís approach to resource management. We havenít heard language like that from a government spokesman since Ronald Reagan left the White House. Here was the Secretary of the Interior proclaiming not only respect for landowners but also her dependence on them.
Norton has a tough job. She has a bureaucracy packed with pro-government intervention Clintonistas who oppose her vision. She badly needs loyal assistants to help carry out the Bush agenda. But the rhetorical change is valuable. Itís a much-appreciated improvement from the past few years.
The Secretary understands that private ownership of natural resources, such as land and timber, provides an incentive for someone to manage them. If you own natural resources and you benefit from them, by gum, you will do everything possible to manage them and conserve them.
Finding an endangered species on your property should be a good thing, but itís not. "If you were to discover a rare bird on your property, you would fear economic devastation instead of thinking about great wealth," Norton said. "There is something profoundly wrong with this system that yields those kinds of results. It creates conflict and hardship, instead of stewardship. For too long, weíve been spending precious resources on paying lawyers bills instead of protecting species and fighting to bring them back from the brink of extinction."
Gale Norton understands that economic incentives must be changed. A new federal approach to private landowners is the key to helping threatened and endangered species. The government must support private efforts through incentives, not heavy-handed federal mandates. Given the attitude of the Clinton administration, it is refreshing to actually have a Secretary of the Interior who understands these things. We must be prepared to make calls to Congress and the White House when she needs our support.
If you hear of a success story in private conservation, you should let the folks know at the Center for Private Conservation. Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about private conservation, check out the centerís Website at http://www.privateconservation.org.
(Editorís Note: Rich Jefferson worked in the office of the Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources from 1994-1995. In addition, he worked at a state agency within the natural resources secretariat; he was public relations manager of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries from 1995-1997. Rich may be contacted via e-mail at email@example.com.)
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