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Reader EddieM wrote:

Rick, i really respect what you are doing to educate people. You know this as well as I do, many people fail to understand the VALUE of our natural environment. You’re right, these are not liberal vs. conservative issues, or the gnatcatcher vs. developers. Our natural environment is our livelihood…our land, it exists without us dumb people arguing about it. We can choose to understand it, or not. “ChrisG” is correct, many people in SD, including natives, don’t have a clue about their own environment. Why go outside and explore our local trails when most of the year we see shades of brown and “weeds?” They have no idea that just over the hill or into the canyon is a uniqe and wonderful environment that is full of life! Get out and explore people…find a way to integratenatureintoy

Well, I think the best way to answer this is to take a segment out of the second edition of my book, “Fire, Chaparral, and Survival in Southern California.” For fear of appearing to be the self-promoting gadfly, I have been called in some quarters, the new edition will be released Jan. 28 during a presentation at the San Diego Natural History Museum starting at 6:30 p.m. Afterward, you can obtain a copy from any bookstore. Anyway, here’s the snip:

In the first printing of this book’s introduction I tried to come up with numerous, unemotional reasons why people should care about the chaparral. “What is it good for?”

I asked. I came up with several answers. “Chaparral provides critical watershed necessary to maintain our quality of life. Without the shrubs, rain would slam into the ground with greater energy, causing increased levels of erosion and flooding, which would have a negative impact on water quality, drainage infrastructure, and waterways. Grass covered slopes do not provide the same benefits as deep-rooted shrubbery and have their own sets of problems such as being easier to ignite, lengthening the fire season, and reducing biodiversity.

Huge numbers of people enjoy chaparral as a wildlife habitat for a wide variety of activities including hunting, bird watching, hiking, and solitude. The capital required to deal with the loss of chaparral would be enormous.”

Well, okay. But to be honest, assembling utilitarian reasons to prove the value of nature is not particularly inspiring. In fact, it is counterproductive. It misses the point. I feel stupid for even bringing it up.

Nature is sacred. It has value beyond calculation.

Things that are assessed, commoditized, and placed on a balance sheet can be easily exploited, devalued, and written off. Human history is littered with the casualties of utilitarian perspectives including the failure of entire cultures (Diamond 2005). Centuries of intensive exploitation of nature in a climate zone similar to southern California’s, the Mediterranean region itself, contributed to the downfall of some of the world’s greatest civilizations. Once the natural landscape was brutalized by over-grazing, deforestation, and the resultant soil erosion, empires could no longer support themselves. In 1864 George Perkins Marsh warned us not to repeat the same mistake. “Let us be wise in time,” he wrote, “and profit by the errors of our older brethren.”

I won’t engage in making dire predictions for our own civilization. There are enough of those already. But I will offer the suggestion that by actualizing the innate love of nature we all have within us, we will not only enjoy life more but can help leave behind a better place.

— RICHARD HALSEY

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