Photos (left to right): Road reconstruction and postfire salvage logging, Malheur NF, OR; Mt. Adams Wilderness, WA; Steelhead stream subjected to livestock grazing, Wallowa-Whitman NF, OR, All photos by Jonathan J. Rhodes

Conservation Hydrology

This is new territory in the field of hydrology:  as far as I can tell, no one has ever even called themselves a “conservation hydrologist,” which speaks volumes about how pervasive the culture of resource exploitation is among professional hydrologic cadres. This is captured by the old hydrologic adage: “Water generally flows downhill, but can be made to flow uphill to money.” But this culture is not restricted to the field of hydrology -- many natural resource management disciplines are marinated in the view that ecosystems are a collection of resources that can be converted to commodities to be plundered for short-term profit for a relatively few, rather than essential components of our planetary life support system.

To be sure, legitimate public concerns about the condition of our ecosystems have affected some changes in natural resource management. However, much of this change has been non-substantive. Many practitioners pay lip service to the “sustainability” of continued commodity extraction and spend more time than ever reassuring the public that “things will be alright.”

The arguments on this front are typically variations on a few themes:  that additional damage from an individual activity won’t make much difference; unfounded assertions that highly-touted, but largely unscrutinized techniques of resource extraction will eliminate impacts; or that there are techno-fixes to existing problems that don’t involve reductions in the level of damaging extractive activities.

These are no different than the past rationalizations for the extensive and intensive damage to our natural resource heritage that exists today.  Such hand-waiving assurances have been false in the past, providing more than ample empirical evidence that they’ll be false in the future.

There’s also more than ample empirical evidence that the healthiest remaining aquatic ecosystems are in watersheds that have been left in the most natural state. There’s a lesson in that for those that aren’t dedicated to avoiding the obvious.

At Planeto Azul, it is realized that stemming major damage requires stemming additional incremental damage—almost all the many problems afflicting ecosystems have been caused by the cumulative impact of incremental insults.  Restoring the pervasive, severe degradation of aquatic resources requires prevention of additional damage and curtailment/cessation of activities causing on-going damage.  This means it is time to quit whittling away at what is left.

Planeto Azul’s work is solely aimed at fully protecting and restoring watersheds and aquatic resources, because to do otherwise is theft from future generations. And it’s time to lay off of that, too.