If not for Colvin

Readers of my previous post might wonder why it was necessary to write protection of the Adirondack State Park into the New York constitution. Isn’t that a bit of overkill, and a frank admission that our public servants are not to be trusted? Well, perhaps so. But there’s nothing that the capitalist system hates more than unexploited resources, and quite often state foresters and politicians are only too ready to cooperate with the exploiters. Efforts to undo the “forever wild” provision got underway almost as soon as the ink dried on the new constitution, and they haven’t let up in the century since.

Wildness is like love: you can’t just suspend it for a little while in the interest of some other attachment, and expect it to return unharmed at your convenience. Once you violate it, it ain’t coming back — at least, not for a long time. But especially in an economic downturn, it’s easy to forget the long-term economic and ecological benefits of wildlands in the search for a quick fix.

What just happened in Pennsylvania is instructive, I think. Read this shocking summary of the Pennsylvania legislature’s assault on state parks, state forests, and the state environmental regulatory agency from the chair of the State Public Lands committee of the Pennsylvania Chapter of the Sierra Club, Arthur Clark. It’s worth pointing out, too — for the benefit of my more partisan friends — that this all happened under a Democratic governor, with a state legislature narrowly controlled by the Democratic Party. (Pennsylvania’s last good governor for public lands issues was actually a Republican, Tom Ridge.) Though Gov. Rendell was happy to accept Sierra Club support in his reelection campaign, he can’t run again, and he appears to have some rather more important friends in the oil and gas industry.

The take-home message? While much of New York’s water supply is protected by its constitution, Pennsylvania’s groundwater, streams and rivers are about to be drawn down and probably contaminated on a massive scale by deep drilling for the Marcellus shale unnatural gas boom. New York had Verplanck Colvin; Pennsylvania had Gifford Pinchot, first Chief of the U.S. Forest Service and twice the governor of Pennsylvania, who defined forestry as “the art of producing from the forest whatever it can yield for the service of man.” Their legacies couldn’t be more different.

UPDATE (10/13): Here’s the Harrisburg Patriot-News editorial on what they call (riffing on the new Ken Burns documentary) “The Conservation Compromise: Pennsylvania’s Worst Idea.” (Hat-tip: R. Martin, PA Forest Coalition email)

8 Replies to “If not for Colvin”

  1. “Wildness is like love: you can’t just suspend it for a little while in the interest of some other attachment, and expect it to return unharmed at your convenience.”

    This should be blazoned on a few foreheads. (Ok. High foreheads; it’s not the catchy 4-word phrase we usually see as promo-bits. But still. It should be. Blazed.)

    1. Right on. Which is not to say recovery or restoration can’t work, too — witness the efforts in Scotland to restore native forest cover by fencing out deer or reintroducing wolves.

  2. Kia ora Dave,
    Here in New Zealand our right wing elected government has decided to do a “stock take” of all our conservation land, National Parks, and forests. Our illustrious Minister of Energy would not have been in one of these places his entire life. We have to fight the bastards anyway we can. Kia kaha!

    1. Sorry to hear that, Robb. Would this be the same government that tried to site that windplant on one of your most pristing ridgetops? It’s particularly offensive when the bastards try and do this in the name of green power — which is somewhat the case here with natural gas drilling (and certainly with mountaintop wind turbines).

  3. What bothers me more than politicians ( since I do not hold a high opinion about them) are economists critiquing the Endangered Species Act in the name of wealth, growth and the equilibrium theory. For I cannot get these people – ok, you don’t care about the beauty of wilderness but do you care that an ecosystem like any other system –including your precious economic one -has a state of equilibrium and if you mess up with it you will manage to destroy that equilibrium and that will slap you just right back in your face. Sorry about the rant, and thanks for the post…

    1. No need to apologize for this rant — I couldn’t agree more. It’s baffling and infuriating. I guess I’d lay part of the blame on public school curricula, which excluded nature study for generations.

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