Conservation Archive


July 1, 2018

David Katz

The national news is full of doom and gloom, irreconcilable differences between red states and blue states, tales of environmental destruction, and other indications that the apocalypse is upon us. In our recent two-week car-camping trip to Colorado, Anne and I decided to turn the news off and look instead for political commonalities, environmental rejuvenation, hope and happiness, and other indications that the apocalypse may not be arriving quite so fast. Here’s a sampling of what we found in the 12 states (some red, some blue, some purple) and one province we crossed:

Conservation-oriented agriculture such as terracing, shelter belts, runoff-control strips, and minimum-tillage cropping. Gullies from long ago have been stabilized. Large areas were devoted to pasture. Convenience stores sell hormone-free grasspastured beef products. The majority of irrigation systems were set up to minimize wasted water.

Thoughtfully designed and beautifully maintained state, provincial, and municipal parks. Most had a mix of open, brushy, and wooded areas creating a variety of wildlife habitats. Several states are making prairie-restoration efforts. All of the campgrounds had recycling centers, and one had a composting toi let.

Birds and beasts everywhere. Without trying, we noted at least 30 species of birds. Farmers and ranchers are also co-existing with pronghorn antelope, white-tail deer, prairie dogs, woodchucks, and no doubt a variety of other mammals that we didn’t see, except occasionally in the grip of passing raptors.

Innovative efforts to engage park users with the local environment. Paths traversing a variety of habitats offer information about the habitats as well as walking and biking. Signs along one nature trail had scientific information on one side; poetry on the other. Another trail featured a children’s book (Little Cloud), one page per sign over the length of the trail.

Historical inspiration. The Aldo Leopold Foundation, located at what used to be Leopold’s family’s rural retreat near Baraboo WI, was hosting an international environmental leadership workshop the day we visited on our way out. On the return trip, we wandered around Malabar Farm State Park near Mansfield OH, where Louis Bromfield and his collaborators explored farmland restoration and sustainable farming methods in the mid-twentieth century and where they continue to introduce people to wise land use.

Yes, there’s still plenty wrong with the way we humans interact with the rest of our living world, and it’s often hard to tell whether we’re moving in useful or problematic directions. But seeing the breadth and depth of our collective interest in living well with our environment gives me hope that we will find our way to healthy, rewarding, and sustainable ecological relationships.