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Can Humans Try?

by Stephen Capra, Bold Visions Conservation

It remains a mystery why so many people are content to put their heads in the sand on issues like global warming. In some circles, it's the cool political thing to do, but for others, tuning out of society has become part of their mental health regime.

What is more challenging to understand is why, as a society, we continue to do things that make life more fragile, that leave less to generations to come, and some do it with a smug arrogance that revolves around the idea of getting all you can. Yesterday, I came upon an article about water use in the Colorado River. What astonishes me is that even though we have destroyed so many pieces of this once magnificent river with dams and diversions, we still allow 47% of the river's water to grow alfalfa so that cattle can eat.

Our western lands have been degraded by public land grazing, and ranchers enjoy rich subsidies, but we will drain a river to keep feeding this boys' club. In states like New Mexico, its share of the water for alfalfa from Colorado is more than 80%. If a company used its water, not for people and communities, but to grow a crop of cows, I think most people see it as insanity. Still, the tired refrain of custom and culture continues to destroy the utopia that once was the West.

The same people pushing for alfalfa to be grown with this precious water also want wolves and other predators destroyed. As rural communities lose access to clean, predictable water, cows continue being fed on public lands and enjoy alfalfa as they endure winter and other adverse conditions. Today, the mighty Colorado no longer reaches the wetlands of Mexico, which Aldo Leopold spoke about in amazement.

What continues to allow such stupidity to continue? The same mentality that people like Senator Daines use to eliminate wilderness and allow more off-road and snowmobile access despite the harm to wildlife.

The same mentality that drives state game and fish agencies the power to encourage trophy hunters to destroy the genetically most essential animals. We continue the norms of the early part of the 19th century lest we offend some interest that profits from this outdated sense of entitlement.

If the world is to prosper, it must stop the endless assault on our lands, wildlife, and waters. We need far more wilderness, rewilding, and an end to things like trapping. We need dams removed, fish to return, and we need to stop the wanton waste of water to grow cows. We must stop ranchers from killing precious wildlife.

The problem remains that some people want to avoid even trying. As our living standards soar, it comes at the cost of our connection to wildness and the destruction of native species. This all begins and ends with a commitment to change and to accept new technologies that end our dependence on coal, which puts the wise use of water resources as the top priority. Somehow, it has become cool to be raging at conservation and anything that changes how some have lived for generations in the West. It is time to expedite, through incentives, the federal government to change old laws that are clearly outdated. While educating the youth of our world as people like Greta Thunburg symbolize, they are inheriting our failed policies and some of our notable successes. Many more do so with courage and wisdom.

I remember a saying about wilderness when I was young: I may never be able to see it, but it remains important that these lands are protected for generations to come. We must see beyond our own reflection and push for change so that in the future, children and adults can marvel at wolves, mountain vistas, and the sunset in a desert canyon, visuals we have been so blessed to witness.

The process begins by breaking the stranglehold of ranchers, trophy hunters, farmers, and politicians who refuse to innovate have upon us, strangling the life out of the magic that defines our sacred West. We must keep fighting and pushing for sustainable policies, and we must be focused on protecting this place we love for generations to come. It remains our moral responsibility.

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This past week, we met with all the Tribes of Idaho and Montana and felt it was an essential first step. We will keep you posted.

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