Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Fifth National Partnership Conference: Explorations of Economic and Environmental Sustainability

I had the pleasure of participating in the Fifth National Partnership Conference among The Nature Conservancy, Conservation International, the Army Corps of Engineers and others last week in Memphis, Tennessee.  The Partnership Conference is designed to periodically bring Federal, State and NGO conservation partners together to discuss and advance sustainable water resources projects across the country.

The agenda of the Conference included plenary talks, work sessions, poster presentations, networking opportunities and a day on the Mississippi River (looking at levee repair and conservation restoration projects near Memphis).  I spoke to the group on two occasions, once to explore the meaning of sustainability, as it relates to the country's economy and environment and to our organizations, and a second time to probe the outdated road map we tend to follow while seeking a sustainable future (and suggest that it might be time for a new map) (Click here to see more photos from the Conference).

There were a lot of well-thought out and progressive recommendations that came out of the work group sessions and that emerged from the dialogue during and after the plenary and poster sessions.  But as I left the conference I had to wonder (and this as an avowed tree-hugger from the woods of North-central Pennsylvania) whether this decade’s pursuit of very laudable environmental and watershed goals by the Corps-Conservation partnership isn’t just as narrow and short-sighted in its own way as were the pursuits of irrigation, navigation and flood control goals during past Corps’ partnerships with others.

Put another way, if, as I heard last week, we don’t really want to know the true cost of the salmon we recently bought at the store, because of the millions of restoration dollars heavily invested in fish ladders on rivers in the Pacific Northwest, then how long will it be until that true cost, and the true costs of hydroelectric dam investments before that, run headlong into the interests of others within and beyond those watersheds?  Why weren’t those people at the table when those projects were being planned?  And where were those people last week, while partners in Memphis, Tennessee debated the future of conservation in their watersheds?

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