Sasha Nelson: Conservation is a human value
July 15, 2016
I wrote my first monthly column for the Craig Daily Press in July of 2013 and boldly declared that conservation is conservative. I was wrong. Saving things isn't partisan; it's encoded in our human DNA. We are wired with a primitive psychological response that scientists call the "endowment effect." It's the powerful drive to hang onto what we have now to avoid having too little later. When this primitive desire to set things aside is combined with other primitive human motivations such as altruism and the desire to be remembered, the result is a powerful motivation to create a legacy.
There are many examples of legacies that we create. One is setting aside land for others to enjoy forever. This is a uniquely American invention, an idea first enacted by President Abraham Lincoln at a time in history rife with conflict. Despite the Civil War, California's Yosemite Valley was established in 1864 as the first protected place in America. Then, Yellowstone and Arizona's prehistoric Casa Grande, were followed by a "golden age" of land protection as President Theodore Roosevelt created five new parks, 18 national monuments, four national game refuges, 51 bird sanctuaries and protected over 100 million acres of national forest.
However, the rapidly expanding number of protected areas lacked cohesive management. In 1915, industrialist Steven Mather proposed the creation of the National Park Service. The idea was not without controversy, nevertheless the agency was created in 1916. Mather become its first director, with a mandate to protect the parks "unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations," and to promote their use by all people. On Aug. 25, 2016, the National Park Service will turn 100 years old.
Today's National Park Service includes 392 national parks, monuments, battlefields, seashores and recreation areas across all 50 states. Noted author and Westerner Wallace Stegner said "National parks are the best idea we ever had." Centennial celebrations across the nation — including locally at Dinosaur National Monument — are bringing deserved attention to not only these amazing places, but the importance of our public lands as we all enter into a second century of stewardship one of America's best ideas.
We can also create legacies in other ways. This week I worked to create a workplace legacy. My last day with Conservation Colorado was Friday. In addition to completing reports, finishing projects and cleaning out my office, I passed the baton along, leaving to others a legacy of work to carry on without me. Next month, someone new will be tasked to write a thoughtful piece about the important conservation issues in our region. That means this is my final column of this series.
I want to express my gratitude for the opportunity provided to me by the Craig Daily Press in allowing me to write about the work I have done. I am also grateful for the many readers who encouraged me along the way. I smile recalling the number of times I was pulled aside and told that my words were noticed. Sometimes my critics even said, with a sly wink and nudge, that they might have agreed with a few of the things that I had to say.
It is with a great deal of excitement that I announce that next month I will join the Craig Daily Press full-time as the new reporter for health care and education. My relationship with the newspaper began long before writing the monthly column. I have a legacy of work with the Daily Press having been one of its first summer interns under the editorial guidance of Chuck Hook. I cut my teeth as a freelance reporter when Mitch Bettis was editor. In 2014, I had the opportunity to cover community events for current Editor Noelle Leavitt Riley.
My intention is to provide ethical, balanced and readable reporting. My aspiration is to become a great reporter. One of the elements required for great reporting are great sources. I ask the community to get behind me and our newspaper. The work is hard, we do it with the best of intentions and your willingness to participate with story tips, quotes, access and feedback are essential to creating a paper that you are excited to read.
As I step back from work in conservation and leave that work for others, I get to reflect. As our community continues to set a course for a bright future through the implementation of new economic development plans, it is my hope that our community gets behind America's legacy of protected public lands. Study after study has convinced me that the potential exists to develop a stronger economy as a result of our abundance of public land, clean air, water, and wildlife. I believe that conservation isn't a conservative value nor is it a progressive value; it is a human necessity.
Sasha Nelson is the outgoing field organizer for Conservation Colorado in Craig.Sasha Nelson is the outgoing field organizer for Conservation Colorado in Craig.Sasha Nelson is the outgoing field organizer for Conservation Colorado in Craig.