The conservation movement and the business world are typically portrayed in the mass media as two entities locked in continuous conflict. They are seen as two opposing viewpoints always at loggerheads. How many times, whether it is in a movie or in TV, have we seen this plot unfold: unscrupulous business men want to engage in an action for profit, no matter what the cost? A group of typically plucky youth then engages them in a variety of ambiguous legal and illegal ways and the day is saved. The businessmen are defeated and the environment is saved, or possibly more environmental damage is deterred. However, conservationists around the country are beginning to challenge this notion of eternal conflict and look for a solution in sustainable growth.

One conservatory group taking charge in this movement is the Sierra Foothill Conservancy.  The Conservancy owns outright 6,500 acres of land and manages another 20,000 for ranchers in the counties of Fresno, Madera, Merced and Mariposa in California. At first this may seem to be an oxymoron. We have conservationists managing land on behalf of ranchers and participating in the razing of cattle themselves. Admittedly, it was a controversial idea at first, but over the past decade, studies have shown that cattle grazing can help the land, especially vernal pools, temporary collections of water that provide crucial habitat for native plants and invertebrates.[1]This partnership has spread to other industries that one typically finds at odds with the conservation movement:

Other conservationists are teaming up with private timber investors such as the Lyme Timber Company based in New Hampshire. The company acquires quality habitat that doubles as timberland, gives up development rights by selling conservation easements to land trusts and public agencies throughout the U.S., then logs the land in a sustainable way to generate an income.

Timber is harvested at or below the annual rate of growth, said Peter Stein, the company’s managing director, and harvesting methods are third party certified by the Forest Stewardship Council and the Sustainable Forestry.

The approach is key, Stein said, as conservationists aim to preserve larger tracts of land – in the hundreds of acres – which are too expensive to buy outright.

The Nature Conservancy is also partnering with the timber industry in California and Alaska to restore salmon by felling trees to create stream habitat.

The group has also partnered with the fishing industry. It bought out fishing permits in California and in Maine to protect millions of acres of ocean habitat, then leased the permits back to fishermen who agreed to fish sustainably.”1

                The whole idea rests on the notion that certain actions are never going to be entirely deterred. Our entire economic system rests on the notion of continual, infinite growth and that requires the input of base resources. Whether they are lumber, cattle, salmon, or what we extract from the earth, they all play a vital role in our economy. Recognizing that a total determent is impossible, these conservationists have recognized the value of partnership. Much like the arguments for marijuana legalization, the value of this idea rests on mutual benefits. The argued benefits of the legalization of marijuana are the added tax revenue/jobs, reduction in profits for drug dealers, and development and control of a safe and well regulated product. The idea here is very similar. Instead of having no control over the outcome, they now have some input. In doing so, both sides reach a compromise where there is sustainability, where before the loggers/ranchers could have possibly done as much devastation as they please. At the same time, they are turning a profit that allows them to further invest in continued conservation. It’s a simple case of economics. Instead of engaging in zero sum activities (where one side’s win is another’s loss) they are engaging in a mutually beneficial contract. It is truly the tenets of capitalism and democracy at work for the best.

By Sean Maguire