Author Archives: David Festa

California’s upcoming water bond measure will do more than meets the eye

California Capitol Building, Sacramento

There’s a lot to like about SB 5, the $4 billion parks and water bond legislation signed by Governor Jerry Brown, qualifying it for the June 2018 ballot.

For starters, its largest allocation – $725 million – will go toward building new parks in underserved neighborhoods. That’s a good thing for communities who are often overlooked when it comes to environmental investments and protections.

But that’s not all. SB 5 contains some funding programs unlike those seen in past park bonds. A renewed focus on the agricultural community and the Salton Sea is a clear sign that California is taking a magnifying glass to the most serious resource issues in the state. The bond’s “hidden gems” aim to make California more resilient to the droughts, downpours and wildfires that are expected to intensify as a result of climate change.

That’s a good thing for all Californians, not to mention the state’s wildlife. Read More »

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EPA’s rationale for withdrawing the Clean Water Rule is dead wrong. Here’s why.

The Clean Water Rule was established to clarify which bodies of water are protected by the federal Clean Water Act of 1972. (Photo Credit: Geoff Livingston)

We live in a nation of laws and rules for a reason. They make democracy possible.

That’s why Environmental Defense Fund last week submitted public comments on the Clean Water Rule, which the Trump Administration is proposing to rescind.

The Clean Water Rule, also known as Waters of the United States (WOTUS), was established in 2015 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers to clarify which bodies of water are protected by the federal Clean Water Act of 1972.

Soon after it was enacted, stakeholder groups sued – practically standard practice anytime a significant policy is put forward. We recognize the different opinions around WOTUS, but aversion to controversy is not basis for setting policy.

And yet, that’s what the EPA is trying to do – remove a policy not because it is unlawful, but because it is under litigation, which the EPA claims “produces uncertainty.” Read More »

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There’s no winner takes all when it comes to the environment

After many years of working to protect the environment, I have come to believe in two big ideas: community and civility.

The first seems simple, but is profound nonetheless: From a tiny frog to a giant grizzly, from a family farmer to the residents of our largest cities, all of us are in this together. We all rely upon the benefits that nature provides to prosper.

That’s not what we hear from some politicians who parrot discredited talking points that claim environmental protection kills jobs and cripples the economy.

The truth is that a thriving economy and high quality of life are inextricably linked to, and dependent upon, a healthy environment. We neglect – or worse, punish – the natural world at our peril. Read More »

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What we've learned from 50 years of wildlife conservation

Wildlife conservation practices are helping protect our nation's treasured emblem: the bald eagle

Photo: © Holger Ehlers

When the first endangered species list was created 50 years ago, it started out with 78 animals. The grizzly bear and bald eagle were among American icons that made that first list.

Today, it counts 1,400 animals and 900 plants – an expansion that reflects more petitions for listings over time, but also the fact that threats to habitats and ecosystems have become more widespread and complex.

In the early days of the Endangered Species Act, we could more easily identify the threat and go straight to the source. When DDT was thinning egg shells, killing embryos and endangering multiple bird species, we worked to curb applications of the harmful pesticide. After a federal ban against DDT, the problem was solved.

Today, threats are more likely to come from broad landscape changes that occur when growing populations push housing and commercial developments outward, energy development and large-scale farming fragment and encroach on habitats, and climate change-related droughts and wildfires degrade entire ecosystems. Read More »

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Why wholesale repeal of environmental protections is a losing business strategy

Capitol Building

© Dwight Nadig

Taking aim at government regulation is a favorite pastime in Washington, but the Trump Administration and the 115th Congress have upped the ante.

In the course of a few weeks, the House of Representatives voted down a measure to curb methane leaks from oil and gas rigs on public and tribal lands. It also voted to overturn a common-sense rule to prevent coal companies from polluting local streams. Meanwhile, the president signed an executive order requiring the arbitrary removal of two existing regulations for every new one created.

Next in their sights: gutting Environmental Protection Agency programs and possibly repealing the Endangered Species Act.

There’s no question we can improve how we go about implementing environmental laws to ensure they deliver the biggest bang for the buck for people and nature. But as an advocate for the environment and a former policy director at the U.S. Department of Commerce, I find the rhetoric-driven rush to rescind these protections short-sighted – even dangerous. Read More »

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The year the private sector stepped up for land, water and wildlife

The private sector stepped up for land, water and wildlifeBy this time next year, I believe we’ll reflect back on 2017 as the year that the private sector stepped up to protect our land, water and wildlife for future generations.

I believe this because major retailers, food companies, agricultural businesses and farmers laid the groundwork in 2016, making sizeable commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), improve water quality and conserve habitat for imperiled wildlife.

President-elect Trump has made political theater by threatening to kill the regulations that protect our nation’s air and water. But in the real world, the private sector is going the other direction.

Forward-thinking businesses are rolling up their sleeves and finding ways to make those regulations work better by accelerating the uptake of practices that are good for the planet and the bottom line.

These are three areas to watch in 2017.

Read More »

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Will Trump’s victory defeat the environment? It’s time to rally around shared values

Farmers and ranchers across the country value the benefits of environmental protectionsLike all Americans, I woke up on November 9 to a new reality: A few more Democrats in Congress, and yes, a President-elect who promised to dismantle our nation’s core environmental protections.

Though the overwhelming majority of rural counties voted for Donald Trump, I do not believe they voted to increase air and water pollution or jeopardize wildlife.

We live in amazing times. Compared to 40 years ago, our environment is healthier, even as our economy has grown 300 percent.

But 40 years is a long time ago, and it’s easy to forget that progress didn’t happen overnight. It took Republican and Democratic administrations to put our bedrock environmental protections in place so the rules laid out in them could be enforced. These laws include:

  • A wildlife protection act that brought our national symbol, the bald eagle, back from the brink of extinction.
  • A clean air act that has helped to reduce smog and acid rain that was threatening our children’s health and killing our forests.
  • A water quality act that has cleaned up our rivers so they may never catch fire again. (Yes, the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland was so polluted that it ignited in 1969.)

Read More »

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Hurricane Matthew teaches us four important lessons about resilience

Flooded farm field. Photo: Todd Boyd, Pinetown, North Carolina

Photo credit: Todd Boyd, Pinetown, North Carolina, via DTN Progressive Farmer

Floodwaters powered by Hurricane Matthew’s heavy rains are finally receding in eastern North Carolina. Now farmers, communities, and state officials are beginning to take stock of their losses and think about the future.

Here are four lessons we should learn from the devastating storm.

1. Plan for the new normal

In the past 17 years, North Carolina has been hit by two storms causing 500-year floods. Hurricane Floyd in 1999, and Hurricane Matthew this past month. Both hurricanes caused extensive damage and loss of life. But Floyd in particular was especially devastating to animal agriculture and the environment. Read More »

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What Michael Pollan gets wrong about Big Ag

Tractor in farm fieldJournalist Michael Pollan deserves credit for elevating the national conversation about food. Over the course of 25 years, his articles and books have thoughtfully contemplated the troubling side effects of the American diet and the way our food is produced.

But his latest piece in the New York Times Magazine reads like a script for a black and white Western, with food companies, agribusiness and commodity producers cast in the role of Bad Guy and local organic farmers and vegans cast as the Men in White Hats.

In Pollan’s script, the bad guys are responsible for everything from America’s weight problem and rising health care costs to widespread environmental degradation and monocultures that threaten national security. If only the law would get on the good guys’ side, he muses.

Food production is actually changing

All industries have issues that continually need to be addressed, and the food industry is no exception.

Agriculture consumes a lot of land and water and emits greenhouse gas emissions that must be curbed. And, yes, our diets have contributed to America’s obesity epidemic.

Except, our food system is changing, more than Pollan acknowledges.

The uptick in consumer demand for local, organic products is promising. So, too, are the contributions that Pollan’s so-called villains – the companies, agribusinesses and commodity farmers who produce what’s on our plate – are making to the environment. They deserve recognition. Read More »

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These heartland conservation heroes defy stereotypes

Montana rancher Dusty Crary with his horses.

Montana rancher Dusty Crary with his horses.

Western ranchers, Midwestern commodity crop growers, fishermen who make their livelihoods along the Mississippi River and the Gulf Coast. In some circles, these folks wouldn’t necessarily be considered models of sustainability. And yet, many are leading a quiet revolution in the way our food is raised, harvested and produced.

In her new book Rancher Farmer Fisherman: Conservation Heroes of the Heartland, my colleague Miriam Horn journeys down the Mighty Mississippi River System to meet five representatives of this unsung stewardship movement: Read More »

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