The New American Center and Conservation

Many of my colleagues are concerned about the future of conservation in America. The funding to do this noble, unselfish work is at risk. We wonder if Americans value conservation enough to continue to pay for it. This anxiety comes at a time when threats to fish, wildlife and their habitats are mounting and we feel conservation is needed more than ever.

This week NBC and Esquire released a fascinating survey showing where 2,410 Americans, and presumably the rest of us, stand on a range of issues. Based upon the survey results it seems there is a majority of voters that represent a distinct group. The New American Center is the term used to describe 56% of registered voters today. Interestingly a third of these folks consider themselves independent while another third call themselves liberal and another third conservative. Yet, when asked specific questions it turns out this majority, the Center, have common values streaked with  blue and red.

What does this survey have to do with leadership in conservation? Perhaps this survey can help us ask questions and understand how conservation can survive in a changing America. Some of the results have a clear connection to those of us concerned about conservation. For example, the Center favored a smaller government that spends money fairly and wisely. Most of the Center recycles because they want to do something to help the environment. The Center is more likely to spend its free time on weekends watching movies and shopping for fun. Tax the carbon-emitting industries to reduce pollution? The Center says “yes” but drill more at home too.

Smaller government. More people. Increased energy production. Less habitat. Yet unspoiled lands and waters teeming with wildlife. No problem, right?

We are in the midst of high expectations that demand change. In The Practice of Adaptive Leadership, the authors suggest leadership for change demands inspiration and perspiration. I believe they’re right. There is no doubt conserving America’s wild things and places is going to be hard work. And garnering support for funding will require more than data. I believe a path to success will require we:

1. work hard at being aware and respectful of the value, attitudes and beliefs of the Center;

2. use that knowledge to build relationships with them; and

3. inspire them with stories that help them connect the environment they value with people like us working to protect it.

We’re working in uncertain times. Leadership is required from every person in the conservation community. Each of us should be aware of how the public values nature and our work. We should use that knowledge to help them realize their connection to both. If we do these things well, I believe future surveys will show the Center supports publicly funded conservation.

I’m curious. Do you believe taxpayers in the future will support conservation funding even if they don’t have a physical connection with nature?

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About cognizantfox

Cognizantfox has served his country over twenty-five years doing the unselfish, noble work of conserving America's natural heritage.
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6 Responses to The New American Center and Conservation

  1. David Wright says:

    Will the public of the future be willing to fund conservation? There are some alarming patterns. I may not have this exact but I am close. Prior to the WWII, 80% of our population lived in a rural setting and 20% lived in urban settings. That is now reversed. I suspect many citizens living in urban/suburban settings have no contact with nature, and many of the gadget-bound youth are not even aware of it’s existence. In the event of an economic slow down (like we have now) , getting funds from these unaffected or associated by nature may be very difficult.

    However, the movement of folks to the cities, combined with less discretionary money, and a movement of industry to cheap labor markets may take the stress off the natural world—except where there is desperate extraction to feed the exponential expanding population. Here in Wisconsin where we live, we have no growth, declining extraction by farming, logging and mining, so in reality, much of the natural world is actually improving on its own. Still, the demand for fuel in the form of ethanol is starting to take a toll on some areas.

    I did work on a project in northern Colorado that managed to get public funding to purchase 22,000 acres of open space next to Ft. Collins. It was initiated by a very small group of people who pushed and shoved in every venue available. It passed in a referendum by a 2 to 1 ratio. It was a large success and does illustrate that funding can be found, a least locally in a very well educated constituency. Sadly, in a few weeks the very folks that fought the referendum, the growth industry, started running adds for people to move to Ft. Collins because it had 22, 000 acres of open space.

    To the question: Globally no. Nationally very difficult if the needs of the people for food, fuel, and natural materials become desperate. Locally there are distinct possibilities, 2 of which I mentioned. In your case, isolation is a very high card, remove one military base and lose the pipe line for lack of oil and growth will go into decline. Pressure on the natural world will diminish.

  2. Dark Viking says:

    @David Wright I live in FC. I would love to grab a cup of coffee to learn about how FC got so much open space.

  3. Jimmy says:

    Thanks for chiming in here David! I get your point. Is nature necessary for human life like clean air and clean water? If one is poor, which would he choose to pay for. In the future will nature fall farther out on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs or move inward? I don’t have the answers but I do know scientists are now documenting the psychological benefits of a connection to nature.

  4. Willy says:

    Jimmy, I believe that most voters/taxpayers have some realization that resource conservation is important to the human species. You know where I live; in conversations with many individuals here who profess to be much further to the conservative side than I, the majority claim to understand that if the resources they enjoy are to be enjoyed by future generations there is a fiscal side that must be addressed.

    You state: “1. work hard at being aware and respectful of the value, attitudes and beliefs of the Center; 2. use that knowledge to build relationships with them; and 3. inspire them with stories that help them connect the environment they value with people like us working to protect it.”
    Also: “Leadership is required from every person in the conservation community. Each of us should be aware of how the public values nature and our work. We should use that knowledge to help them realize their connection to both.”

    My fear is that future conservation “leaders” will no longer have (or the desire to acquire) the skills & abilities to “kick the dirt with folks” nor have the awareness of the three principles you have so clearly proposed, which I agree with whole-heartedly. I have to tell you that I retired without a great deal of faith that the hard work so many leaders (that came before you and I) performed to get NWRS where it is today will continue as pointed out in your three principles and the accompanying staement.

    • Jimmy says:

      Thank you for commenting! I’m heartened by your observations that folks you know that farther to the right than you value conservation and are willing to pay for the service. Your fear that future conservationists will no longer connect with folks may come true. It is also possible they will emerge from our universities with skills that we should have had. For example, an increasing number of universities with traditional wildlife programs are offering “human dimensions” courses that prepare students for the people side of conservation – training I only received on-the-job. But to your point, having the ability or skill to interact and build relationships (kickin’ the dirt) with landowners, farmers, hunting guides, etc may not be so easily acquired in a classroom.

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