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As wildfires scorched the West this summer and hurricanes pummeled the Southeast, we found once again that resilience and hope rest on the remarkable ability of people to come together in common cause. Wallace Stegner once wrote that cooperation provides our best chance to create a society that matches our scenery. At a time when increasing and competing demands on our land and natural resources pose significant challenges, cooperation is more essential than ever.
In this spirit, more than 130 organizations representing ranchers, farmers, foresters, conservationists, sportsmen and women, and businesses have endorsed a set of unifying principles to achieve rural economic health, a productive agricultural sector, provide for human needs, and protect the landscapes in which we live and work. These are:
- We believe that working lands, human communities and wild places are all important and interdependent. Their health and vitality must be protected and advanced together.
- We believe that ecosystem productivity, social equity, and economic well-being go hand-in-hand. Good public policy builds on and reinforces these linkages.
- We know from experience that the cooperative management of private and public lands is good for business, public health, and species conservation. It is therefore essential that large-scale resource planning be coordinated across boundaries, inclusive of multiple interests, place-based, and informed by science.
- We know that voluntary, market- and incentive-based programs provide key economic support enabling landowners to participate in conservation, improve their operations, and help keep landscapes intact.
- Above all, we believe that hope for rural America lies in collaboration, common sense, and non-partisan solutions that ensure the long-term sustainability of working lands and robust new economies.
While people will always find differences, it is our innate ability to work together that enables us to survive, raise families and create prosperous communities. Place-based collaboration, built on strong relationships and trust, is a proven and successful strategy to resolve long-standing conflicts. Communities and organizations are working together to restore and manage forests and rangelands while creating local jobs. Though not a panacea for all of the challenges we face today, place-based collaboration is an essential framework for implementing successful social, economic and environmental solutions.
As Congress and the Federal Administration seek strategies to create efficient and effective government, investing in programs that allow our farmers, ranchers, and landowners to share stewardship of the Nation’s natural resources is a great place to start. Together, they can spark rural prosperity by investing in solutions that revitalize communities and create jobs through land stewardship. Maintaining funding that encourages innovation, implementation and investment in rural America and in our federal agency partners is imperative.
Every good business re-invests in the people and resources that sustain it. As a nation, we must do the same. Land and natural resources are the foundation upon which all else depends, even in a high-tech society such as our own. Only if we work together from this essential common ground can we hope to remain a united and prosperous nation and to endow our children with a viable future.
Lesli Allison is the executive director of the Western Landowners Alliance, a West-wide organization established by landowners to improve the ecological health and economic prosperity of working lands in the American West. Karen Hardigg is a director for Rural Voices for Conservation Coalition, an organization which works together for healthy landscapes and vibrant rural communities throughout the American West. Steve Jester is the executive director for Partners for Conservation, an organization that embodies the grassroots movement of private landowners working with agencies, non-profit organizations, and policymakers to collaborate on conservation projects to sustain our working landscapes for present and future generations.