Thursday, October 2, 2014

Conservation of what ought to be conserved...

I have always been fascinated by water and would prefer to play in a wet ditch than go to an amusement park.  When I was young, I remember craning my neck to see creeks and rivers when crossing highway bridges (and I still do so).  Here in northern Alabama, red clay is very common, and Alabama's waters in those days were often red because of construction, strip mining, agriculture, etc.

Since those days, regulations under the Clean Water Act and other statutes have mandated the use of "best management practices" such as silt fences and detention ponds to prevent such turbidity.  Most marine creatures (other than catfish) do not like turbid water any more than do humans.  Dirty water impedes their functions and makes the search for food difficult if not impossible.

When I was a kid, "swamp" meant something worthless that a huckster was trying to sell you, or worse, it was where you get unhappily stuck.  Swamps are now called "wetlands", and they are recognized as the natural nurseries for fish, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals.  Likewise, streams used to be freely dredged, straightened, piped, diverted, and denuded, but now we know that a stream with healthy natural banks and tree cover is worth far more to God's creatures than miles of sterile, sun-drenched ditch.  A few principles:
·         Wetlands and streambanks are valuable ecologically.  Sewer plants process wastewater with chemicals relatively quickly, but wetlands process water slowly and thoroughly the natural way: Toxins are absorbed and broken down, and oxygen in the water is replenished.  Wetlands are where fast water meets slow water, where cold water meets warm water, and (on the coasts) where salt water meets fresh water.  For plants and wildlife, wetlands are a nursery and a buffet.  Alabama is home to more species of fish than any other state.  Marshes, wetlands, and streams are where nature rejuvenates itself.
·         Wetlands and streambanks are valuable economically.  When a party is trying to obtain a permit under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to construct something that affects wetlands and streams, e.g., a dam or freeway, the Corps requires the developer to preserve (likely by buying) mitigation properties in the same watershed.  If 15 acres of wetlands are going to be destroyed, the Corps may require the developer to preserve 50 acres of wetlands somewhere else.  The developer will need to purchase wetlands or pay the owners cash to declare conservation easements over the same lands.  Lands dedicated to conservation uses can provide tax breaks under certain circumstances.  Mitigation "banks" speculate on wetlands and streambanks and sell them to developers.  In other words, your grandmother's overgrown bottom lands might be worth something.
·         Managed land is less likely to receive illegal dumping or be illegally clear-cut than unmanaged land.  Lawyers can create value for clients by forming limited liability companies that hold lands, hire timber managers, negotiate hunting leases, and rent out homesteads and farmlands.  Poaching, trespassing, converted timber, and illegal dumping could cost the client much more money than doing nothing, so active conservation is good business.

·         Streams are terribly abused today by people who do not know they are abusing them.  Stripped lands and impervious surfaces from developments accelerate storm flows in creeks, thereby causing the banks to wash away.  Exposed banks leak red clay and other sediments into the water, and marine flora and fauna generally do not thrive in muddy waters.  Trees and other vegetation planted on the banks provide cover for wildlife, shade to lower water temperatures, structural support for the banks, and places of peace and quiet.  Natural streams, like wetlands, are valuable ecologically and economically, and their restoration and preservation are often required by the Corps to obtain permits for big projects.

Before there was "environmentalism" there was "conservation", and conservation is a conservative cause as well as a liberal one.