Some of the most important lessons I've learned about liberalism I've learned from an unexpected source -- nature. Some of the clearest and most instructive of those lessons have come from a U. S. Forest Service "study area" in the central Arizona high desert.
In 1946, the U. S. Forest Service erected a fence around a portion of an area exhausted by human overuse and misuse in this arid rangeland to demonstrate one of the core principles of modern liberal environmentalism -- that the best way to restore damaged land to ecological health is to protect it from the impacts of humans. Today, the Drake Exclosure (The Drake) has been under the beneficent care of nature alone for more than 66 years, but...
Rather than the revived Eden one would expect to find after 66 years of environmental protection, much of the Drake, today, is as bare as a well-used parking lot.
"Actually, it looks pretty much the same as it did back in 1946," said a Forest Service scientist studying the area, "but the trees were smaller."
Studies show that 90% of the plant species that lived within its boundaries before it was protected no longer live there. In fact, much of the land supports no plants at all, and, judging from the lack of tracks and dung, not much wildlife either.
When I bring environmentalists here and ask them what they would do to remedy this apparent failure of one of their most basic principles, invariably, they say they would continue to protect the area even though that policy has failed for 66+ years.
Some even say that they would extend this failed policy beyond the Drake's protective fence.
This is where things become even more revealing
Outside the fence a local rancher has applied the basic conservative principle that doing nothing is not always the best remedy for doing the wrong thing, and...
If something doesn't work, do something else. Better yet, if something does work -- emulate it.
This rancher manages his cattle as Nature manages her own grazers -- in herds moving regularly in response to natural conditions and allowing the land to recover before they return. On the land managed in this way, Nature's "Yes" is as obvious as the "No" she has made so clear inside the Drake. Outside the Drake's protective fence, on the land grazed by the conservative rancher's cattle, a healthy stand of native grasses has repopulated the land; the plant species that have ceased to exist within the Drake can still be found; and there is plenty of evidence of wildlife as well as livestock.
Environmentalists react to this unexpected anomaly in a way that is revealing precisely because it isn't surprising. First, the fact that the "protected" land inside the exclosure is essentially morbid and desertified, doesn't shake their faith in their prescription for a second. In fact, they don't really seem to care about the condition of the land inside or outside the exclosure.
What they do seem to care about is that this inconvenient failure might put their liberal prescription -- that we ought to protect as much of nature as possible -- in jeopardy.