Perception and Preservation
Of all the battles we wage to protect the Pinelands National Reserve, one of the most important is make the high ecological value of the Pinelands known to the public. All advocates and antagonists of the movement to preserve public lands are engaged in a cultural debate about the intrinsic, scientific, and aesthetic value of the land and water. The winners of this debate will ultimately control the fate of the Pines as they shape and influence the minds of the public and of policymakers.
In 2013, sociologist Robert Brulle of Drexel University released a study on the funding of the climate denial groups, he said that “The climate change countermovement has had a real political and ecological impact on the failure of the world to act on global warming,” In a telling example of this counter-movement success, during a 2015 meeting to present a motorized access plan for Wharton State Forest, a group in the back of the room audibly laughed when the presenter mentioned climate change as one of the reasons for shifting management strategies in the State Forest. Have they read the latest climate reports indicating that 2016 (and the each of the 5 years previous) are the hottest on record or are they simply defaulting to a manufactured position instilled in their culture by well-funded anti-environment marketing firms?
The crux of the strategy of the anti-environment marketing campaign is to instill non-scientifically valid beliefs into large subcultures in the United States. By dividing those with an interest in conservation, they are promoting differences instead of similarities and relying on an us-versus-them strategy. To defeat this false choice, we have to consider ways to relate to the many cultures with an interest in conservation. By harnessing and promoting values that other groups find important, we can emphasize our similarities and minimize conflicts over disputed issues. There is nothing that the oil and gas industry, off-road vehicle lobby, and developers want more than to divide those who value public land, clean air, and water.
In one example, we need both hunters and animal rights activists to unite when it comes to protecting wild places. When these groups conflict in antagonistic ways, the only outcome is a weakening of both, in favor of groups that have no interest in promoting a healthy wildlife community. If we focus on working together to achieve symbiotic goals , we can benefit both groups and resist the trap of tribalism that ultimately weakens. The consequence of failure in this regard is already having direct impacts on the public lands of this state. The truth is that one can be a hunter and an animal right’s advocate, one can be an off-road vehicle enthusiast and a preservationist, and one can be an environmentalist and also want a strong local economy. These groups that are usually pitted against each other are often more similar than they are different and it is up to us to resist the us-versus-them trap that degrades the decision-making process.
Simultaneously, we have to recognize the validity of the concerns of these groups within the conservation movement and work in good faith to resolve them. For example, all animals should have rights and respect, but hunting is a strongly valued local tradition, a valued management tool, and an important means of local subsistence. We should work to join these groups by focusing on the similarities, such as the desire for a diverse and healthy wildlife community. In a similarly contentious example, is the debate over off-road vehicle use caused conflict among those who value publicly owned land. Because of the vast amount of damage that has been documented, it is our opinion that off-road vehicle driving cannot be done sustainably in the Pinelands. However, that does not mean there should not be a well-designed off-road vehicle course on private lands in a less ecologically sensitive area in the State. In another example, we do not want pipelines to criss-cross the Preservation and Forest Area of the Pinelands for legal and environmental reasons, but we do want sustainable economic opportunities for those that live in the Pinelands Region. None of these positions are directly opposed, but they are often framed in that context by those with an interest in divisiveness.
If we are able to find a way to relate to each other, then we may be able to compromise on even highly contentious issues and strengthen the ultimate mission of preservation.