Friday, March 16, 2007
Discovering Our Importance TO Nature
By DAN BARNETT
As part of the "On the Creek Lecture Series," noted author Dan Dagget recently spoke at Chico State University.
Dagget's first book, "Beyond the Rangeland Conflict, Toward a West That Works," was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. His latest work, "Gardeners of Eden: Rediscovering Our Importance To Nature" ($24.95 in large-size paperback from The Thatcher Charitable Trust and EcoResults!) expands on his alternative view to the "leave it alone" philosophy that has governed much thinking about the environment in the last few decades. According to a press release, EcoResults!, of which Dagget is CEO, is "a nonprofit foundation that finds funding for land managers seeking to turn their operations into a means to restore and sustain environmental values."
Just what that means is the subject of "Gardeners of Eden," a lively and personal exploration of how a new kind of environmentalism is being born among those who see themselves, and their skills, as part of the ecosystem, part of nature.
The huge mistake we modern humans have made, Dagget insists, is in thinking that "the only way we can really heal the land is to protect it from impacts created by humans: to 'leave it alone.' This widely held assumption is why, when we talk of healing the land, we invariably talk of protecting it, of preserving it. ... That's why articles that deal with land issues treat the word 'protecting' as having the same meaning as 'healing' or 'restoring.' It is why those articles never explain how protecting the land will heal it."
The assumption that healthy land is land humans leave alone is based, he writes, on another assumption: "that all environmental problems are caused by humans. ... We don't think of butterflies or deer or wolves as creating environmental problems."
But, says Dagget, there is a group of what he fondly calls "Lost Tribe gardeners" whose actions have benefited the land, have made it "outperform the Leave-It-Alone approach." To these people, such as Tony and Jerrie Tipton, who solved an "eco disaster" in the Nevada desert, the word "protection" is another name for "abandonment."
A Nevada mining operation had left a 300-foot pile of crushed rock "polluted with cyanide and covered with salt." The Tiptons "dragged a length of railroad rail over the part of the pile they intended to treat, breaking up the salt crust. ... Then they scattered the seed, spread the hay and straw, and released the cattle. The cows ate most of the hay and a little of the straw, and what they didn't eat, they trampled into the rocks along with the seeds and the microbe-rich organic fertilizer they provided from their guts." Years later native plants are still growing there, in an area with less an inch of rain.
Early in Dagget's career he demonstrated for Earth First! and in 1992 was named to a list of top grass-roots activists by the Sierra Club. But since then Dagget has come to realize that an environmentalism that insisted on defining healthy land as that least touched by human hands -- even if those land tracts were devoid of life -- simply made no sense. His book cites many examples of human intervention helping ecosystems thrive by their being used to grow food or raise cattle.
Careful management is needed, but that's the point of gardening.
Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright 2007 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.