June 27, 2016|By Trevor Cutsinger| Forests

Before I embarked on an environmentally focused education, I was a student of philosophy and religion. One of my favorite authors, the beloved C.S. Lewis, wrote a series of books known as the Space Trilogy that influenced my interest and eventual career in conservation. In the final book, That Hideous Strength, Lewis presents a terrifying narrative about the human tendency to view our natural world as expendable. The purpose of the technological superagency in this book, the National Institute of Coordinated Experiments (N.I.C.E), is to create “the New Man, the man who will not die, the artificial man, free from Nature. Nature is the ladder we have climbed up by, now we kick her away.” While few in our world would seriously advocate for all artificial trees and birds, as one of the characters in this book does, the philosophical underpinnings of this fictional organization are in fact alive and well, illustrated by our societal failure to properly value natural resources like forests, wetlands, and biodiversity. For too long our civilization has viewed the plenty of our natural world as a bottomless pit of resources to be exploited for short-term benefit at every turn.

TC IMG 0391The Conservation Fund's North Coast Forest Conservation Initiative is working to sustainably manage more than 70,000 acres of forestland in Northern California. Photo by Lauren Fety.

The Conservation Fund, in all of its programs, attempts to balance the tension between the need for humans to use the Earth’s natural resources and the need to protect these same resources for the ecosystem services they provide. This is why in all of our projects you will see components of both sustainable economic development and conservation, and this is why I love working here. In my role as the Working Forest Fund business manager, I strive to balance this tension every day. Every forest provides critical ecosystem services—filtering drinking water, providing wildlife habitat, and sequestering carbon. Every forest also plays a critical role in supporting local economies, connecting humans to nature, and providing forest products that we all depend on every day.

TC IMG 0388A working forest in California. Photo by Trevor Cutsinger.

You might ask, “What’s the problem? I see trees everywhere I look.” While there has been significant loss of forestland in the U.S. in the last 50 years to things like development and agricultural conversion, the biggest problem is a bit more subtle than that. Fragmentation of large, landscape-scale forests into smaller and smaller blocks as they change in ownership over the years frequently results in the slow but steady degradation of the various economic and ecological functions they fulfill. This is where we come in. We step in to buy large intact forests with our Working Forest Fund, and then we work with our corporate, state, federal, and private partners to permanently conserve these forests either with working forest conservation easements or direct sale to organizations whose mission it is to manage and protect these resources. As we successfully protect these forests, we are then able to roll over the funds to the next project, allowing each dollar we raise to work on two, then three, then four (you get the idea) properties. It is the definition of a gift that keeps on giving.

TC Brunswick Forest NC forestland 5The Working Forest Fund acquires and permanently protects ecologically significant forestland, applying expert management and restoration. Our goal is to ensure forests' vital role in providing clean air and water, wildlife habitat, and economic benefits for communities across America. Photo by Steve Orr.

On his recent visit to Yosemite marking the 100th anniversary of the National Parks, President Obama said, “This planet belongs to all of us, it's the only one we’ve got. And we can't give lip service to that notion but then oppose the things required to protect it. On this issue, unlike a lot of issues, there's such a thing as being too late." Not every forest, mountain, or stream possesses the majesty of Yosemite, but the collective effort to conserve these landscapes around the country will without a doubt continue to make conservation work for America. I hope you’ll join us as we work to avoid the fictional but frightening world, devoid of birds and forests, imagined by C.S. Lewis.