By Jon H. Harsch

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

MOSCOW, Idaho, April 4 – Conservation advocate Amos Eno calls for a radically different approach to conservation, based not on environmental wishful thinking but on hard economic realities.

In a speech on “Private Lands: The New Conservation Frontier” at the University of Idaho Monday, Eno argued that putting working farmers and ranchers back in the environmental driver's seat would be the most effective and cheapest way to achieve the nation's environmental goals. Based on research findings, he concludes that “After 50 years of relentless environmental advocacy, I think we are that point where cultural change has brought us to the junction where we can trust the vast majority of land owners to do the right thing by their land and be good stewards.”

Federal Land Holdings - Public land accounts for 29% of the land base in the lower 48 states, consuming a disproportionate 90% of conservation tax dollars:

Source: Resources First Foundation, Private Sector Solutions for the Environment.

Rather than rely on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to impose tough new court-ordered regulations, Eno told his Idaho audience that the key to protecting land from development, protecting biodiversity from annihilation and improving the vital productivity of farms, ranches and forests is to provide private land owners with the tools and incentives they need to continue their stewardship “across thousands of individually owned properties simultaneously.”

Eno explained that “The traditional approach to complex conservation problems involved environmental activists, lawyers, policy makers, regulations, litigation, and legislation – the top-down approach. This approach often demonized farm, ranch and forest owners and placed the highest value on the environmental objective – often a designated place to conserve plants or wildlife. A private landowner’s needs, including their livelihood, intergenerational transfer of land, and the sustainability of their operations were discounted or ignored. This approach filled landowners with fear and worry of facing fines and losing their income or facing restrictions on their land.”

Eno's alternative is to replace top-down regulation with “a system that effectively cultivates an ethos of stewardship and cooperation, where landowners are motivated to engage in conservation.” He says the focus should be on working with the 13 million private landowning farmers, ranchers and foresters who not only own 60% of the U.S. landscape but own the most productive, biodiverse land as opposed to the rocky mountainsides or desert stretches which characterize so much of federally owned land.

It's private landowners, Eno insists, who need to be at the center of environmental policy today. Unfortunately, he says, the challenge facing these landowners today is that “instead of trying to outwit Indians and the brutalities of a 19th century western landscape, they must contend with countless meetings with bureaucrats over water rights, endangered species, grazing rights, litigious onslaughts from the Center of Biological Diversity.” As well, he adds, landowners face relentless development pressures from multiplying ranchettes and rampant urbanization.

Eno calls for a new public policy focus centered on “supporting private land stewardship and entrepreneurship” – a focus which recognizes the understandable fact that “Land owners do not really like government bureaucrats nor environmentalists telling them what they can or cannot do with their land.” He says “Individuals, families living on the land are . . . the underpinnings of our democracy, not the bureaucrats of land management agencies.”

For more about Amos Eno and the information resources developed by the Private Landowner Network, click HERE.

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