Earth Day Is A Time To Remember The Proud History Of Private Stewardship, Says Conservation Group

April 22 should be a time of reflection on the great efforts by the thousands of people who work diligently to preserve some small piece of the planet privately, and very often, at their own expense, says R.J. Smith, senior scholar of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Private Conservation (CPC).

For over three decades Smith has done extensive research and written about the private conservation work of individuals, associations, outdoor groups, land trusts, conservation groups, hunting and fishing organizations, a broad range of private landowners and corporations. He has served as a consultant for the Department of Interior, the Council on Environmental Quality during the Reagan administration, and as a special assistant at the Environmental Protection Agency.

“People have a long history of conserving nature privately. They’ve done it in the past, they’re doing it now and they’ll do it in the future,” he says. One of the earliest examples of private stewardship involved Thomas Jefferson. After viewing the Natural Bridge of Virginia, it so inspired him that he felt compelled to take action to privately protect what he called, “the most sublime of Nature’s works.” To ensure this would happen, Jefferson bought the landmark in 1774 from King George III. The bridge today, 225 years later, is still privately owned. “The integrity and beauty of the bridge and its natural setting remain unspoiled – a testimonial to private conservation,” Smith notes.

The Center’s emblem, the Wood Duck, is a prime example of successful private stewardship. Rapidly disappearing early in this century, the government could do little more than ban hunting. Yet as a cavity-nesting bird, its plight arose from the felling of the eastern forests as human settlements grew. A multitude of individuals and organizations stepped in to help rescue the species by working with private landowners and erecting artificial nest boxes across the country, thereby ensuring its survival and recovery.

Smith points to the Sea Lion Caves in Oregon and Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in Pennsylvania as extraordinarily successful private preserves that helped to “turn the tide against government-subsidized eradication of seals, sea lions, and birds of prey.” Unfortunately, such efforts receive little attention; people are often under the mistaken view that the government is solely responsible for conservation. “Government takes a cookie cutter approach when it comes to protecting the environment. Private conservation allows virtually every person in this country who has a vision, to take an active role in saving species and habitat,” Smith adds. Earth Day should also celebrate and acknowledge the commitment to the environment that so many private individuals and organizations share.

Besides saving species from extinction, private conservation efforts include creating habitat: putting up a chickadee nest house; planting crabapple trees that provide food for birds; or maintaining a birdbath. “Even the smallest yard in the city can attract birds or butterflies by creating a backyard habitat. Swallowtail butterflies, for instance, like parsley, and are easily attracted to the plant,” Smith reports.

He concludes by encouraging everyone to think “good stewardship,” this Earth Day. It offers something for anyone interested in the environment. Some feel a real moral obligation; others have a desire to take care of a species, habitat, or environment that will offer profit or non-profit benefits; and for still others, nurturing the environment and its creatures is a hobby that allows them to stay connected to nature.

Created in 1995, the CPC is a project of the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI). CPC researches, documents, and promotes the public benefits of private conservation and private stewardship.

(Note to the news media: Earth Day interviews with the following spokespersons can be arranged by calling Judy Kent at (202) 331-1010 or (703) 759-7476 (home) or Emily McGee at (202) 331-1010 or (703) 892-2534 (home).

Fred L Smith, – President, CEI, ext. 214

  • Removing barriers to environmental stewardship
  • Learning from past mistakes: how traditional private conservation lessons can be used in the modern world.

Jonathan Adler, CEI Sr. Dir.of Environmental Policy, ext. 245

  • Property Rights & Environmental Protection
  • Endangered Species Act
  • Conservation without Regulation

R.J. Smith, CPC Senior Scholar, ext. 244

  • History of Private Conservation
  • Why the government hurts, not helps, endangered species
  • Private Conservation success stories

Michael Dealessi, CPC Director, (San Francisco Office) (415) 487-9223

  • Marine conservation and fisheries
  • Private Conservation
  • Conserving large spaces privately
  • CITES (Convention on International Trade and Endangered Species) and African Wildlife issues

CEI, a non-profit, non-partisan public policy group founded in 1984, is dedicated to the principles of free enterprise and limited government.