Let’s get serious about conservation

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Conservation; the act or practice of conserving; protection from loss; preservation. This is a term that we all hear quite frequently, especially in the soil and water world. The question is: What does it really mean?

I recently listened to a speaker that made me stop and think about that.

Pete Nowak recently wrote in the Soil and Water Conservation Society journal: “Conservation is not a practice, a program, a technical standard, or a plan. Neither is conservation another name for a government financial incentive. Conservation is a journey.”

I think we would all agree with this statement. This is a journey taken not only as individuals, but also as a society, a greater community.

Critical for agriculture

Those of us directly involved with agriculture today face numerous challenges.

To feed a growing world population and protect Ohio’s natural resources for future generations, farms will have to grow more food, which will require improvements in both production methods and natural resources management. This will be a defining moment in our history.

It comes down to this: Can we keep ourselves fed? Can we save the stuff, the soil and water, of which we’re made? We are all merely stopovers between soil and soil.

4Rs and 3Es

We have been promoting the idea of the 4R nutrient stewardship which represents the four “rights” of fertilizer management — the right source, the right rate, the right time, and the right place.

I can’t help to think that along with this we should be promoting the use of the 3 E’s; ecology, economics and ethics.

Ecology has shown us that soil, far from being the inert dirt beneath our feet, is in fact a living community of animals and plants and fungi and microbes, providing us with our daily bread and every other good and necessary thing.

Our primary problem is that our schools of economics were formulated before we began to understand the reality of the land’s complexity.

The second “E” is economy. The destruction of soil is the most fundamental kind of economic loss which the human race can suffer.

This should raise the question: When was the last time you heard any prominent economist or elected official or media star say anything about soil?

Our third “E” is ethics. Ethics in the simplest form is the guideline for appropriate behavior in a community.

I think Aldo Leopold said it best when he said; “We abuse land, because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”

Time to regroup

I believe we all need to re-evaluate our lifestyles and our communities. It is time for everyone to do the right thing. Not just livestock producers, but everyone!

There is not one person on this earth who does not need our soil and our water in order to survive.

I believe we are attempting to bring the three “E’s”together. We see it in the rise of new fields such as sustainable agriculture, in the movements of community based conservation and environmental justice. It is especially evident in the movement of urban agriculture.

This is all encouraging but still only modest steps toward the ultimate goal.

As stated during the Pritchard lecture; “if we are to cultivate our communities at the scale necessary to make a difference, then in the next generation we must move away from an economy that extracts and depletes and discards and externalizes its costs as a matter of course, and move toward one that conserves, cultivates, and restores as a fundamental practice.”

It is time that we take advice from some of the original conservationists, Aldo Leopold and Hugh Hammond Bennett.

The good news is that we don’t need to start from scratch. I believe if we are to be successful in the future we need to look back in history and stand on the shoulders of Leopold and Bennett, as well as many other great conservationists.

About the Author

Cathy Berg, Program Administrator for the Ashland Soil and Water Conservation District for 15 past years. Bachelor of Science Degree from The Ohio State University. Major in Agronomy with soils specialization and a minor in Natural Resources Management. More Stories by Cathy Berg

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