The extirpation of a “Threatened Species” (the spikedace) from the Verde River by the Liberal Environmentalists’ cure for any and every thing that ails the environment—protection (see last post)—isn’t the only proof this approach doesn’t work. There are other instances in which protecting the environment has failed to restore balance, heal the land, bring back native plants and animals, and save endangered species. Here are some more:

DESERTIFICATION: On Wupatki National Monument, adjacent to former Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt’s family’s ranch in Northern Arizona, the amount of bare dirt (soil without plants on it) has more than doubled in 13 years of “protection.” In contrast, four trials of using cattle to encourage plant growth on a study plot on the Babbitt Ranch monitored by EcoResults (a not-for-profit I helped found) increased plant cover by native grasses by an average of 20% per trial.

ENDANGERED SPECIES: A ranch along the Gila River in New Mexico hosts one of the largest known populations of an endangered bird—the southwestern willow flycatcher. Two adjacent “protected” areas host none of those birds.

NATIVE PLANTS: On a preserve near Santa Barbara, California, where I live today, exclosures have been constructed to protect areas of native grasses from human impact on the theory that the current invasion of California grasslands by plants from other continents is caused by the damage done to those habitats by more than a century of human use. After 15 or so years of post-human management the exclosures have proven more hospitable to the invaders than the natives. The protected areas have become almost pure stands of invaders, while outside the fence, where the land continues to be grazed, and thus be used by humans, there are healthy stands of natives grasses right up to the fence.

VERNAL POOLS: In Central California, when cattle grazing was removed from seasonal wetlands called vernal pools, Nature Conservancy scientists found that post-human management made these concentrations of native diversity and endangered species vulnerable to invasion by nonnative plants. This invasion caused some of these seasonal wetlands to dry up before the rare plants and animals that inhabit them could spring to life and reproduce. In as few as 3 years of “protection” these areas, which have been called one of the highest concentrations of rare and endangered species on Earth, have literally disappeared.

To their credit a number of mainstream environmental groups, including The Nature Conservancy, Audubon, Defenders of Wildlife, and others have recognized this situation and have facilitated the return of grazing to these unique areas. Still, the other situations I described above, and plenty more like them, have experienced no such progress.

My experience and my examples come mainly from ranching and rangeland management in the American West, but the phenomenon I am describing occurs in other types of habitat with other kinds of management, too.

HAWAII: On the Hawaiian island of Kauai farming was removed from the Hanalei Valley to benefit native birds. When bird populations began to suffer, farming was restored, and the birds came back.

INDIA: In “Cattle and Conservation at Bharatpur: A Case Study in Science and Advocacy,” Michael Lewis describes a situation in Bharatpur, India, in which the grazing animals belonging to surrounding villagers were removed from an area of wetlands that had been created as a hunting reserve for the local maharaja and recently converted into a park. Nine villagers were shot to death achieve this removal. Since the villagers and their livestock were forcibly removed, the marshes, ponds, and canals have become clogged with plants the cattle used to eat. As a result, bird numbers have begun to drop as has the tiger population, which used to be one of the most dense in the world. As of 2003, the Indian Government was struggling to deal with this apparent anomaly in environmental theory: Removing the impacts of humans is not supposed to cause parks to deteriorate.

In all of these examples, and plenty more, the remedy mainstream liberal environmentalism or Big Green has identified as the only way to deal with our environmental problems—reducing human impact—has failed to achieve its goal. It has failed to save endangered species, improve habitat, and encourage the survival of native plant species. In every case I have listed it did the exact opposite of what it set out to do: it exterminated the endangered species it intended to protect, destroyed the habitat it was intended to restore, made areas more, rather than less, susceptible to invasion by nonnatives, and hastened the desertification of land it was supposed to preserve.

So, what does Liberal Environmentalism do? What is it for? Why are so many people committed to it? Rabid about it? Stay tuned.

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