In his comment to my “Obeying Nature” blog post, Sierra Club’s Clyde Hanson expresses his disappointment that Blandin Foundation’s Vital Forests/Vital Communities Initiative is “avoiding addressing the root cause of the forest biodiversity crisis.” I agree with Hanson that one of the fundamental challenges we all share is to help create and promote culture change that recognizes and values biodiversity as a public good. In our market-based economy, this involves creating incentives and rewards for economic activities that protect and promote biodiversity.
Aldo Leopold famously cautioned conservationists to “save all the parts.” Recognizing that there is a tremendous amount of work to do, and that threats from climate change, population growth, and sprawl continue to mount, I do think there are some positive developments – in terms of culture change and economic mechanisms to support it – from which we can all take heart:
- The profound shift by the US Forest Service, as described by former US forest Service chief Dale Bosworth in the June issue of Journal of Forestry, from a focus on commercial resource extraction to restoring healthy, functioning ecosystems. The result: restoration and outdoor recreation have supplanted timber extraction as the agency’s main focus.
- The 2001 congressional mandate that each state develop a comprehensive strategy for conserving wildlife. The resulting “wildlife action plans” at the state level reflect a growing consensus in the conservation community about the wisdom of moving away from the charismatic “poster critter” approach spawned by the Endangered Species Act (“Save the Spotted Owl!”) and toward a more holistic appreciation, reflective of Leopold’s wisdom, of the importance of protecting all species.
- Progress in translating the value that people get from ecosystem services into dollars and sense. For example, at a conference of the US Society for Ecological Economics held a couple of weeks ago in New York City, participant economists gave the 2007 Herman Daly Award (named for one of the visionaries who founded the field of ecological economics) to Stanford University Associate Professor Gretchen C. Daily for her pioneering work in developing the concept of Ecosystem Services, a means to recognize the value of ecosystems and their components to the human endeavor.
- Progress in the application of innovative conservation tools. According to the newly released SAF report, “The State of America’s Forests,” on average 11 percent of the worlds’ forestland benefits from some type of conservation effort. In the U.S., 20 percent is protected by conservation initiatives. In Minnesota, the ambitious Forest Legacy Partnership aims to bring up to 75,000 acres of working forestlands under easements, including the recent acquisition of an easement on over 1,600 acres of biologically important northern hardwood forests of Sugar Hills, south of Grand Rapids.
- New appreciation for the possible synergies between the economy and ecology. Examples include new work on biomimicry Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by nature by Janine Benyus, one of the founders of the biomimicry movement) and the visionary report by Northern Great Plains Inc. Native Species: Opportunities for the Northern Great Plains) that offers a framework for thinking about a different future for our region that is built upon economic and environmental opportunities that could be derived from paying greater attention to the diversity of native plant and animal species.
This evidence of a growing awareness and appreciation of the importance of creating and reinforcing systems designed to protect our planet’s biodiversity is encouraging to us at Blandin. We hope that our efforts to establish ecologically-based forest management as the norm in Minnesota can be a modest contribution to this growing list of good work.