(Note: This is by Joe Hovels, a longtime forester and proponent of good silviculture from Wisconsin. If you like this essay, consider signing up for his newsletter Wisconsin Partnerships in Forestry at email@example.com)
Water:A Tragedy of Responsibility Joe Hovels, Wisconsin Partnerships in Forestry Environmental problems place great constraint on all societies. The response of the society, its leaders in particular, determines the severity of the consequences of environmental degradation. Maybe nowhere is this more critical than with the protection of water, notably the groundwater resource. The cities of Atlanta and Albuquerque, San Antonio and Las Vegas are linked by the common bond of their water woes. They all have invited tremendous urban sprawl, fueled by massive population influx, and are now suffering from severe thirst. To further stratify these concerns, our intensifying demand for water occurs simultaneously with a critical need to protect endangered riparian species under ever-increasing and more widespread drought conditions. This war between demography and ecology is exacerbated as logging precedes mining and development in former wild areas; corporate agriculture replaces traditional, sustainable agriculture; and silviculture is replaced by more sprawl. As we become increasingly disconnected from the natural world intended to sustain our very existence, we seem to bargain a recipe for impending disaster. Water, in short, is certain to be the critical issue of this century, and a matter of tremendous significance to our very existence. To stress the importance of political decision makers in the United States on the water policy, and in turn our lives, let us first ponder the following facts from the US Forest Service Foundation. These concern ONLY the National Forest lands in the US. The significance of these lands to clean water is overwhelming, as clean water for the public is a mandate for management, and political decision makers have tremendous influence in interpreting these management goals. Two-thirds of all Wild and Scenic Rivers designations are on National Forest lands. 75% of the nation’s outdoor recreation areas are within a half-mile of a stream or lake. Average annual value of timber harvested from National Forest lands in the past twenty years is $330 million, while the average annual value of water coming from these lands exceeds $3.7 BILLION. More than 900 cities rely on National Forest watersheds for their water, notably Denver, Portland, Little Rock, Helena, Oakland and Salt Lake City. Over sixty million Americans depend on National forests for their water. Even with these facts in front of us, humans continue to promote growth and urban sprawl with no consideration for water quality, availability, and sustainability.