What I learned from Western royalty

 

During a symposium on natural resources and sustainability last Friday at University of Colorado, Boulder, law professor Charles Wilkinson took a look at a group of panelists that included two former secretaries of Interior, and in a moment of appreciation for their service, declared them “Western royalty.”

No one said anything particularly groundbreaking at the event. There was talk about how there should be policies to incentivize mining, oil and gas companies to innovate toward environmentally sustainable strategies, for instance, but not a lot of new ideas about exactly how to do that. Still, it was far from boring. Here are three things I learned in 10 hours last Friday (plus some extra research):

The seed of what we now call sustainability started the Civil War, took root in 1905, and blossomed in 1982.

    To help put the “sustainability challenge” in perspective, two professors recapped the idea’s history – a rivetingly nerdy tale for anyone invested in ongoing issues surrounding things like forest management and sustainable agriculture.

    It was Edmund Ruffin, farmer and political rabble-rouser who fired the first shot in Charleston, S.C. in 1861 that helped set the stage for the Civil War. After finding that the previous century of tobacco had depleted the ground of nutrients on his property and that of many others, Ruffin began regularly publishing studies on soil in his home region. And fed up with what associate history professor Paul Sutter described as a “pattern of impermanence” in land use, he became one of the United States’ first agricultural reformists.

    The man credited as the forefather of today’s sustainability movements, the inaugural U.S. Forest Service chief, Gifford Pinchot, may never have used the word sustainability, but it’s what he meant. Following the creation of the service in 1905, the Connecticut native vastly increased acreage of national forests and instituted practical steps toward the philosophy of “greatest good for the greatest number” in the long-term. By the time he was fired in 1910, Pinchot had begun to put our forests to use in a way that would help sustain for future generations many values and resources of the land, rather than just timber. This idea marked a break from the notion that national forests should consistently provide commercial product no matter the environmental cost.

    Gifford Pinchot, the first chief of the U.S. Forest Service, and a forefather of today's sustainability movements.

    Last week, Wilkinson pointed to efforts in the Yellowstone ecosystem to sustain the futures of bison, wolves, and the tourist economy as a contemporary example of Pinchot’s philosophy.

    According to the professors – and a Google algorithm that analyzes every word published in millions of books that are now digitized online – it was the 1982 United Nations World Charter for Nature that marked the beginning of the use of the term “sustainability” as we know it today. Gro Harlem Brundtland, the Norwegian prime minister central to a global environmental movement in the early ’80s, launched the concept with her  groundbreaking 1987 report, “Our Common Future.” In it she laid a framework for long-term strategies for sustainable development, including everything from establishing national family planning policies to keep population growth under control to including, rather than ignoring, the economic consequence of forest degradation when measuring timber profits.

    Sutter called this movement “sustainability synthesis, which combined environment and development strands that had been somewhat at odds before that.”


    High Country News Classifieds
    • PUBLIC LANDS PROGRAM MANAGER
      Conserve Southwest Utah is seeking a candidate with excellent communication skills and a commitment to environmental conservation for the position of Public Lands Program Manager....
    • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
      The Western Slope Conservation Center in Paonia, CO, seeks a dynamic leader who is mission-driven, hardworking, and a creative problem-solver. WSCC is committed to creating...
    • PLANNED GIVING OFFICER
      National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), the nation's oldest and largest national parks nonprofit advocacy organization seeks a Planned Giving Officer. Do you find energy in...
    • NORTHERN NEW MEXICO PROJECT MANAGER
      Seeking qualified Northern New Mexico Project Manager to provide expertise, leadership and support to the organization by planning, cultivating, implementing and managing land conservation activities,...
    • REGIONAL TRAIL STEWARDSHIP COORDINATOR
      Are you passionate about connecting people to the outdoors? The Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) is looking for someone with trail maintenance and volunteer engagement...
    • TRAIL CREW MEMBER
      Position Title: Trail Crew Member Position Type: 6 month seasonal position, April 17-October 15, 2023 Location: Field-based; The RFOV office is in Carbondale, CO, and...
    • CEO BUFFALO NATIONS GRASSLANDS ALLIANCE
      Chief Executive Officer, Remote Exempt position for Buffalo Nations Grasslands Alliance is responsible for the planning and organization of BNGA's day-to-day operations
    • IDAHO DIRECTOR - WESTERN WATERSHEDS PROJECT
      Western Watersheds Project seeks an Idaho Director to continue and expand upon WWP's campaign to protect and restore public lands and wildlife in Idaho, with...
    • DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT, NA'AH ILLAHEE FUND
      Na'ah Illahee Fund (NIF) is seeking a highly qualified Development Director to join our team in supporting and furthering our mission. This position will create...
    • DIRECTOR OF OPERATIONS, NA'AH ILLAHEE FUND
      Na'ah Illahee Fund (NIF) is seeking a highly qualified Operations Director to join our team. This position will provide critical organizational and systems support to...
    • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
      Grand Staircase Escalante Partners (GSEP) is seeking a leader to join our dynamic team in the long-term protection of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM). We...
    • GRASSLAND RESEARCH COORDINATOR
      The Grassland Research Coordinator is a cooperative position with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that performs and participates in and coordinates data collection for...
    • HYDROELECTRIC PLANT
      1.3 MW FERC licensed hydroelectric station near Taylorsville CA. Property is 184 deeded acres surrounded by National Forrest.
    • "PROFILES IN COURAGE: STANDING AGAINST THE WYOMING WIND"
      13 stories of extraordinary courage including HCN founder Tom Bell, PRBRC director Lynn Dickey, Liz Cheney, People of Heart Mountain, the Wind River Indian Reservation...
    • GRANT WRITER
      JOB DESCRIPTION: This Work involves the responsibility of conducting research in the procurement of Federal, State, County, and private grant funding. Additional responsibilities include identifying...
    • ASPIRE COLORADO SUSTAINABLE BODY AND HOME CARE PRODUCTS
      Go Bulk! Go Natural! Our products are better for you and better for the environment. Say no to single-use plastic. Made in U.S.A., by a...
    • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
      Field seminars for adults in the natural and human history of the Colorado Plateau, with lodge and base camp options. Small groups, guest experts.
    • ATTORNEY AD
      Criminal Defense, Code Enforcement, Water Rights, Mental Health Defense, Resentencing.
    • LUNATEC HYDRATION SPRAY BOTTLE
      A must for campers and outdoor enthusiasts. Cools, cleans and hydrates with mist, stream and shower patterns. Hundreds of uses.
    • LUNATEC ODOR-FREE DISHCLOTHS
      are a must try. They stay odor-free, dry fast, are durable and don't require machine washing. Try today.