Jane Yazzie: Vermillion Basin -- what is its value?

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To the editor:

Imagine your full family, all of its branches, having signed, in something like a conservation easement agreement, to set aside 20 of its acres, not selling them or marketing their resources for income and, further, being expected simultaneously to protect them in a natural, healthy condition while also making available to your family and others low-damaging human and domestic animal presences on that 20 acres.

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Imagine your family accepts this charge, must actually provide some of its income to protect and maintain the land's health, but that the land remains yours, although you come to understand that "yours" includes, in reasonable and protective numbers, neighbors and visitors, even unborn future persons in and outside of your family.

Imagine your extended family oversees several trails to maintain for human walkers, wheelchair users, bicycle riders; several rotating grazing guidelines for modest numbers of your family's of neighbors' domestic animals; several ranger-type safety checks in warm seasons; several methods of monitoring habitat components needed by all "resident" and migrating and large wild bird and animal species; and several checks each spring and summer of spring or runoff flows, their routes, and their streamside foliage.

Imagine, then, that of the uses of that 20 acres that your extended family has carefully overseen are ordered, not by law but by political ruling, to take second-place to a new and dominant use, extraction of irreplaceable fossil-provided carbons in liquid or gas.

You are told the carbon products need to be burned as soon as possible, long before there is any attempt to conserve some in ground, burn less or find other fuels.

The most powerful and wealthy industry of your time and society is known to finance politicians' elections and re-elections and, in return, get lists of subsides from public taxes for fossil fuel extraction, get exemptions from your society's carefully crafted clean air and water supply laws, get best chance at easy access to your society's public lands and off-shore waters, and get your society's department of interior to turn a blind eye on as much as a quarter of extractions, to that industry's unpaid royalties (taxes) for the access, for profit, to the public's underground resources.

You all are not offered, but told, a plan to road and dig into the 20-acre area only one percent of surface at a time -- one-fifth of an acre. Some surface scraping and digging will be done, a surface cleanup will be done, but a piping for underground collection will stay in place, and another and another one-fifth acre at a time will be treated the same.

Your public family, still wanting to be in a valued, long-term public agreement, wonders how long it will be before the 20-acre piece is unrecognizable, not just to all current and future modest users, but to the many other species which made it their home.

Is the new plan a result of public need or maintenance of profit for an industry so rich, yet so insistent on avoiding regulation?

How does the plan redefine the value of nature?

What about the value of the healthy plot to attract pollinators in season, to support shrubs that will protect thin soil form wind erosion and evaporative drying, to regrow grasses and plants for modest domestic and wild game herds, to serve with nearby healthy areas as shelter or food in harsh winters, to be maintained in balanced health as a back-up for you an all local plant and animal species during possible future climate challenges, wildfires, or historic surprises?

What about the value of reliable and nontoxic water, in seasonal spring or underground aquifer, the most essential natural resource or use of all?

You wonder why your joint effort at conservation is so undervalued, why the lifestyles of the present are more important to fuel than the lives of so many present and future people and other living creatures.

Jane Yazzie

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