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R is for Respect, Responsibility, and Restoration

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
August 15, 2002


"The enterprise of conservation is a revolution, an evolution of spirit. We call to the land- and the land calls back." — Terry Tempest Williams

Last week I had the immense pleasure of attending a fundraising event for the local conservation powerhouse known as the Escondido Creek Conservancy. Perched on a hill in the unincorporated community of Elfin Forest, this event was a country casual mixer culminating in an acoustic concert by the folk duo Berkley Hart. Of note was how the sun set on the ridgeline behind the performers. Ridgelines preserved by Escondido Creek Conservancy.

Having been involved in environmental efforts for over two decades I have seen and heard it all from those who oppose ecological restraint, in any form. Often labeled as un-American, socialistic, or at worse regressionist activities whose sole purpose is to undermine personal liberties, most environmentalists are simply responding to a biological need to protect the planet that maintains them.

In the eighties when concerned individuals were asking elected officials to help preserve the dwindling native spaces of California's coastal regions, proponents of the free market development ideology, cried foul demanding that unfounded environmental concerns should in no way impede economic growth.

Chastising those wishing to protect the flora and fauna from the unrelenting bulldozers of the era, utilitarian interests demanded that if conservationists wanted to save native habitat it was their responsibility to purchase the land. At which point they would be free do as they see fit. Free market evolution, why not?

As with all things directly connected to the natural order of things, environmentalists and environmental organizations adapted to the harsh conditions created by the Reagan Revolution. Understanding that adaptation is a must in the survival game, those committed to conservation, preservation, and restoration quickly shifted gears and began buying up huge parcels of land.

Capitalizing on every avenue available to them, groups such as the Nature Conservancy, The San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy, and the Escondido Creek Conservancy became absentee landlords that provided housing for the most vulnerable members of our biotic community. Content with letting things just "be," these groups also had the knack of promoting the psychological, cultural, and economic benefits of restoring eco-systems and corresponding biotic communities to a semblance of their former health. Donations flowed.

If you think that is the end of the story you would be wrong. The same utilitarian groups, that chided conservationists to acquire the open space they were intent on saving, are still crying foul. Many believe those advocating ecological restoration are interested only in stealing their land, and undermining their god given property rights. Not surprising environmental sustainability is still equated with socialism and the demise of the American dream, by those seeking profit under every rock regardless of the result.

This time they are finding fault in the success of environmental organizations. Preaching the hallow rhetoric that pits environmental restraint against economic health, these misguided individuals are now complaining that they are being shut out of the system that they created. Litigation now swings both ways, as does legislation. No longer the king of the hill, these folks must now compete with those who are unwilling to trade long-term sustainability for short-lived gains.

Willing to back up their environmental philosophy with the money needed to do so, the Escondido Creek Conservancy is doing more for the Escondido Creek watershed than even governmental agencies could. Certainly more than any individual citizen could do, unless of course that individual is Ted Turner or Bill Gates. This is not to say government has not assisted in conservation efforts. They have.

In the past two decades I can think of only one elected official that has shown an unflinching commitment to environmental sustainability in coastal North County. Supervisor Pam Slater understands that by respecting the role natural systems play in the survival of humanity, and has taken on the difficult responsibility of promoting ecological restoration. The reason I mention Supervisor Slater is because she has been working with those working to restore the watersheds and wetlands of the coastal communities, often with very little fanfare, Encinitas Creek Conservancy included.

Before respect and restoration is even possible, a certain amount of reverence is needed. If no value is seen in preservation, nothing will be preserved, that includes quality of life issues such as human health, breathing room, and air worth breathing.

Responsibility is a big word, and sooner or later we must all take responsibility for our actions. The question is, will it be in time to make a difference, or after the fact when it no longer matters?

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