DanDaggetShades2Some 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. (photo: DrakeInside10/2012)

“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.”



Drake Transect


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.



Monitoring success of the conservative approach


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.

The Drake shows in the most concrete terms I have experienced that liberals really do believe that applying a liberal policy is the one and only way to solve a problem, any problem. According to liberal doctrine, the Drake, as barren as it is, is healed because it is protected. There’s no reason to do anything else. There is nothing else liberals are able or willing to do. In fact, there is nothing else they can do without contradicting their dogma.

Even when the results of that policy are so far off the mark that there is no doubt it is a failure, as in the case of the Drake, our national debt, the War on Poverty… liberals will continue to apply that policy, even try to expand it, until someone stops them, because that’s what liberals do — they apply policies that embody a doctrine and increase their own power. Problems, for them, are nothing more than opportunities to apply this political ratchet.

Conservatives contend that liberalism has never worked anywhere it has been tried, but if you accept liberal dogma as I’ve stated it, as liberals believe it, liberalism can’t fail. It always works, by definition. If it happens to get the wrong results, that’s someone else’s fault, somebody else (George W. Bush) screwed it up.

That is why, if you tell a liberal that what he or she is doing doesn’t work, you are treated as if you have uttered an absurdity, as if what you have said reveals you are so uninformed you don’t deserve a reply.

It is also why liberalism fails as often as it does -— because it is flying blind. It is unable and unwilling, to monitor and correct itself because doing the “right thing” according to liberal doctrine, always gets the “right” results — whatever they are.


About Dan Dagget

I’m an environmentalist, and I’m a conservative. I didn’t start out that way, in fact I started out as an environmental activist, a fairly radical one. I was involved in some of the earliest actions of Earth First, was designated one of the top 100 grass roots activists by the Sierra Club, and helped put together ad hoc groups in Ohio and Arizona directed at specific issues—controlling coal surface mining in Ohio and protecting mountain lions in Arizona. I changed my “environmental politics” because I came to believe that mainstream environmentalists—the great majority of whom are liberals—are more interested in expanding the role of government than in fixing what’s wrong with the environment. Or in sustaining or enhancing what’s right. And because liberals operate by, within, and through the government to control an ever greater portion of our lives—where we get our health care, what kind of cars and food we can buy, how we dispose of our trash, raise our children, etc.—any increase in government power is an increase in their power. Liberals, in other words, measure success, environmental and otherwise, in terms of their ability to control more of the environment (and therefore of us) via government regulation. Conservatism is the home of the free market, of rewarding people for producing outcomes, not applying policies. What does that have to do with the environment? I know a rancher who has managed the habitat on his ranch to such a state of health that it hosts one of the largest known populations of an endangered bird (a flycatcher). An adjacent preserve of similar habitat hosts none. Leftist environmentalists have lobbied to remove the flycatcher habitat from the rancher’s management and increase the size of the preserve. A conservative environmentalism would reward the rancher for his success and empower him to increase the number of flycatchers even more. Does the conservative approach bring problems? Of course it does, but so does the liberal approach—just ask those flycatchers. If you’re interested in producing results rather than regulations, you’ve come to the right place.
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