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Food Forethought

Don't allow environmentalists to hijack 'conservationists'

BY SUSAN ALLEN

Unlike skeptics, I believe that this place really does exist, because I have visited it many times, and been quite content and I have chosen to dwell there. To me it is a utopia of sorts, a respite between the mania of the uptight environmentalist and the renegade redneck. Thus, I hang my shingle here, proudly, where compassionate conservationists reside.

True conservationists are people like my grandfather, Miles Ten Eyck, who was committed to leaving the natural world better for future generations, generations of plants, animals and most importantly ....people.

Grandpa would have been appalled at an environmental movement that would preference a fish, frog or owl over a human. He was just as disgusted by fishermen, recreationalists and hunters who carelessly trashed the flora and fauna.

Like Teddy Roosevelt, the father of the conservationist movement, my grandfather dearly loved hunting; fishing, riding and a good tromp through the woods. In a pre-activist era both men comprehended the value of treading lightly on the wilderness, yet inheritably understood that if our American wilderness is to remain a valued resource the majority must appreciate it and that cannot occur without access, education and involvement.

I have cherished memories of helping my grandfather build nesting boxes for migrating birds, working with him on habitat restoration and quietly observing him lower his rifle when a buck he deemed too young to shoot crept silently by.

Conservationists have a rich history of over a century of enacting environmental change from demographics as diverse as the geography they inhabit. Today a conservationist is a wheat rancher in South Dakota working with Ducks Unlimited to restore wetlands lost to invasive weeds. Conservationists exist among the ranks of executives at Dow Agri Sciences, Bayer Crop Science, Du Pont and Monsanto who generously donated the herbicides necessary for the rancher and Ducks Unlimited members in the Dakotas to succeed.

Conservationists also reside in Manchester, Vt , where employees of Orvis, the fishing, hunting and outdoor company, touch Africa daily through the Cheetah Conservation Fund Orvis established to provide African herdsmen a livestock guard dog program to save the fewer than 15,000 remaining cheetahs left in the world. To date in Namibia alone, 1,000 cheetahs have been spared because of the efforts of Orvis employees and its customers, compassionate conservationists.

In the Northwest, where salmon are king, the Executive Director of the NW Chinook Recovery commented, "some of the best friends to fish are the farmers that have land that abut their habitants."

In contrast, the stereotypical environmentalist happens to be white, wealthy, urban and struggling to connect with the masses. Last year a scathing essay declared the environmental movement "dead," sending irritated environmentalists into a tailspin for a more palatable label that would be embraced by a public weary of activist antics.

Like a poor "camouflage" pattern, environmentalists now hide behind the term "conservationists."

It is critical for the survival of the conservationist movement that they are exposed! It isn't difficult.

Initially, just look for an air of superiority, and exclusivity, as evidenced by groups like Earth Justice who advocate petition drives to keep roadless areas wild, when what they really mean is that the wilderness should be kept as a playground for the entitled few. Another way to blow an environmentalist's cover is to ask their opinion on federal grazing. Environmentalists abhor cattle anywhere, despite the scientific evidence that managed rotational grazing can improve wildlife and indigenous plant species habitat.

A true conservationist supports the move to alternative fuels and isn't opposed to making a sacrifice if required. In contrast, environmental elitists with Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Al Gore at the helm, campaign vocally for alternative fuel sources like wind power and biodiesel as long as turbines aren't located near the Kennedy compound or fuel restrictions interfere with private jet itineraries. (One round-trip flight to Europe burns more fuel than most Americans will use in lifetime to heat their homes).

Most of the farmers and ranchers I know are practicing conservationists. Walk their land and they will point out where deer bed down, trees planted for stream restoration, the number of steelhead that made it up their tributary, and the Great Horned owl that resides in the cottonwoods.

The legacy of conservation in America is a beautiful tapestry that stretches from coast to coast and across time. A dream of Theodore Roosevelt that matured into a movement thanks to the efforts of farming and ranching families and people like my grandfather. To carry their torch we must protect who uses the name "conservationist".

Susan Allen represents the Food Forethought Foundation, an advocate of the American farmer.

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