Conservative Conservation

down in it: at play in the proposed Greater canyonlands national monument. Photo by Cameron Martindell/

Someone once asked me what I would do if I had all the money in the world and my immediate reaction was that I would buy land for preservation. That is the only solution I see to the problem of rapidly decreasing wild lands on our planet. It’s also a solution that doesn’t require government or regulation. It’s a conservative solution, because I believe the only hope that we have for land and the environment moving forward is getting conservatives and liberals to work together.

Despite the ridiculous partisanship in this country, I don’t see the idea of people of different political ideologies working together for a common goal as all that far-fetched. After all, people of every political persuasion (except perhaps only the most bilious pro-business folks) care about public lands. Republican Teddy Roosevelt was the President most concerned with conservation, setting up institutions like national monuments to save the Grand Canyon from development, for example. Some of our most important environmental legislation, including the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act, were passed during the Nixon Administration. I consider myself a passionate environmentalist and yet I have friends who consider themselves part of the Tea Party. And they appreciate the same wilderness areas, the same freedoms of skiing and hiking and escaping into the wild. So why do they also support politicians who would sell off our public lands?

Part of the reason for that is rooted in political ideology and I don’t want to get into that here, but a bigger reason is a simple lack of trust. Recently I have received letters telling me I am “full of shit” and simply “liberal!” for supporting important conservation ideas including stopping the takeover and sale of public lands in Utah and creating a Greater Canyonlands National Monument. I know you can’t make everyone happy but what annoys me the most is that I’m not all that liberal. My ideal way to conserve land is based in fairly conservative principles. And I see groups doing just that. The Nature Conservancy, for instance, buys and preserves critical land that would be lost to development. The Conservation Alliance funds grassroots conservation groups through the profits of outdoor industry businesses. Black Diamond CEO Peter Metcalf and the Outdoor Retailer trade show have stood up against the state of Utah and threatened to move the show unless the state’s lawmakers rethink their threatened abuse and sale of public lands. Solutions like these are often more effective than traditional “liberal” use of regulation and laws to ensure preservation.

But the pockets of those who want to take over the public land are quite deep and often, as Teddy Roosevelt realized, there is no choice beyond using the law to ensure the places we all enjoy will still be around instead of sold and gated off. If I am liberal for saying that then so be it. But we need to depoliticize environmental issues to make true progress. Let’s agree on that.

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