A new environmentalism is emerging among Americans who are no longer willing to tolerate land abuse by anyone, participants in the National Association of Conservation Districts annual convention at the Salt Palace were told Monday.
R. Neil Sampson, executive vice president of the American Forestry Association and the convention's keynote speaker, said natural resource and environmental issues have been shoved to the back burner for the past few years."The problems have never gone away, and public attention is again beginning to focus on the kind of land use, conservation and environmental quality questions that the soil conservation movement has been paying attention to for more than half a century."
Sampson said nuclear and toxic wastes have grown exponentially in recent years. "You can't just throw this stuff away and hope nobody finds it. Evidence is clear that you shouldn't throw it away at all, but should find some way to convert it to useful products."
America's coastal waters are fouled with plastic trash that doesn't deteriorate, he said, and, instead, floats around until it lodges in the stomach of a sea bird or mammal or on a coastline somewhere.
"Instead of trying to pay our debt to the environment by setting aside a few more environmental icons in the form of wilderness areas, we need to pay attention to the lands where we live, work and play."
He said Americans need to find ways to make lands more productive and less polluted, find safe places for hazardous wastes and clean the air so crops and forests can grow unaffected.
"And we need to manage our lands so that water runs clean and plentifully."
Sampson said he believes Americans will demand that new rules be set up to govern land use. "Land does better under management than under neglect."
The American Forestry Association executive said his organization has designed a new education and information program, called Global ReLeaf, to spur concerned citizens to action in improving their environment.
"Around our homes and communities, the trees our grandparents planted are dying off and are not being replaced. A 1986 survey of 20 cities found four trees dying or being removed for each new one planted.
"ReLeaf focuses attention on what people can do to rebuild the environment with trees and forests. Not that trees are the entire answer, but trees are something people can do, right now, with very little knowledge and very little money."
He said his association's goal is not just to plant trees, but to win people's hearts and minds for real environmentalism through involvement, participation and education.
More than 1,600 are attending the National Association of Conservation Districts convention, which opened Sunday and runs through Thursday at the Salt Palace Convention Center.