Monday, February 26, 2007
Is utilization sometimes the best path to conservation? From adaptive reuse of historic buildings to preservation of the rainforest, students of land use are accepting more often the notion that limited use of a special place may be the most stable method of conserving it for future generations. This variant of sustainable use, sometimes derided as an apology for degradation, runs counter to the traditional model of using strict land use barriers. It is only a second-best solution, more strict preservationists contend.
But usage has often been a large part of the most successful efforts to protect special places. Congress was encouraged to enact the legislation that reserved Yellowstone National Park in 1872 in part by the political support of the Northern Pacific Railroad, which foresaw a tourist magnet for its rail lines. The bison is unlikely ever to go extinct in the United States in part because it is now ranched for meat on private land (there are more bison on ranches than in the wild). And historic buildings such as Daniel Burnham's Rookery in Chicago are less likely to feel the pressure of the wrecking ball if they are adapted to modern desires such as new HVAC, bigger restrooms, and brighter lighting, even if some of these changes diverge from the original architecture.
A similar argument about saving by using is set forth in "The Last Forest," a new book by veteran Amazon journalists Mark London and Brian Kelly. According to early reviews, London and Kelly develop arguments for allowing controlled development in the Amazon, including the certification of eco-friendly forestry and other land uses that do not require extensive deforestation or road-building.