What is the difference between an environmentalist and a conservationist? It depends on your definition, of course. Differentiating, however, can help separate those interested in a useful dialogue about tradeoffs from those committed steadfastly to a single outcome. A recent post in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle provides a good start: “Environmentalists preserve resources by blocking use of them. Conservationists manage resources to benefit BOTH nature and man.”
This is fitting retort regarding the story replied to that describes a barrage of appeals plaguing a Forest Service decision in the municipal water shed of Bozeman, Montana. No less than six years ago, the Bozeman Ranger District issued a notice of intent to actively manage about 5,000 acres of forest in the Bozeman Municipal Watershed. The goal is to reduce fire risk severity. The project would entail timber harvest, thinning, and prescribed burn in two drainages that produce about 80 percent of the city’s water supply. A large fire could devastate the water supply by overwhelming the water treatment facility with sedimentation, not to mention other adverse impacts.
A couple of environmental groups continue to appeal the project. They would prefer to see the forest left untouched by man –preserved. Each appeal gains them time which allows for conditions to change that may require additional scientific analysis by the agency before the project takes place, which requires more time. In essence, they can create their desired outcome by postponing action.
I am a conservationist. I recreate in the area regularly and would prefer to see the forest managed to reduce the risk of fire severity. That would allow firefighters the chance to suppress any fire that may ignite. Fire is a natural forest process but it can also cause great damage. Human action can mimic the natural disturbance and enhance forest health and its ability to provide water, recreation, and habitat.
It is preferences that define the difference between environmentalist and conservationist. Scientific study and analysis cannot ascertain preference. Science can help determine how to best reduce the risk of conflagration, to reduce sedimentation, or to enhance habitat. It cannot determine which is most desirable.
Oversight is good. It helps ensure the agency is accountable for actions taken. The current process, however, forces the agency to overanalyze in an effort to prevent, or at least reduce, objections, appeals, and litigation. The cost is the immense use of resources that could have otherwise been spent to enhance environmental quality.
“I found nothing in this additional data that was contrary to the analysis and conclusions made in the FEIS or that leads me to think that the alternatives or decision are not well founded.”
Mary Erickson, Gallatin forest supervisor, in the Record of Decision, February, 2011, responding to additional analysis made following appeals to the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS). Several more appeals were recently filed.