Conservatives set to explore innovative environmental ideas

Ranchers and farmers along the Blackfoot River in Montana have their own method for dealing with the drought that does not involve the federal government or bureaucratic regulations that often favor the environment over humans.

Using more efficient equipment to water their crops and voluntarily cutting back on their usage of irrigation systems are just some of the responses that frees up enough water to remain in streams and maintain a healthy fish population.

???It doesn???t have to be either farmers or fish, you can have both flourish,??? says Gale Norton, who served as Interior secretary during the George W. Bush administration.

Called the Blackfoot Challenge, the water conservation methods were created in 1993 by local residents to conserve and enhance the natural resources. It is also one of many models being examined by the newly formed Conservation Leadership Project, of which Norton is a member.

???These are all voluntary???not regulatory???these are all approaches people have worked out themselves through a local cooperation,??? Norton told Human Events in a recent interview.

Norton served as Interior secretary from 2001-2006 and was the first woman to hold that cabinet position, but not without some controversy. Her Senate confirmation was protested by environmentalists who opposed her multiple-use approach to public lands and support for natural resources development.

Practical solutions

The purpose of the Conservation Leadership Partnership is to provide a catalyst to create practical solutions to environmental issues using a conservative and libertarian focus. The organization is made up of former government officials, public policy experts, agricultural leaders, business visionaries and environmentalists.

???A consistent theme is a bottoms-up solution as opposed to those mandated from Washington. It allows people to find solutions that really work for their communities???not one size fits everyone in the country,??? Norton said.

???Some conservatives are unhappy with the current state of environmental regulation, and that tends to make people think that conservatives don???t care about the environment,??? Norton said.

???In reality, you can separate wanting to protect the environment from heavy-handed regulation. What we are doing is exploring the avenues for protecting our environment while also encouraging free enterprise and innovation and recognition of private property rights,??? Norton said.

The partnership will bring together people from vastly different ecological perspectives???hunting, fishing, farmers, ranchers, oil and gas industry, and environmental groups???to explore what can be done cooperatively to enhance the environment and meet the needs of those who live off the land as well, Norton said.

???We would like to link tighter the economy and environment. We want to see thriving industry so people can have jobs at the same time we protect the environment,??? Norton said.

The group began holding meetings earlier this year and will continue with hearings throughout the west on water issues, energy security, and habitat conservation issues.

Norton said they will hear from people involved in these and other issues ???to make sure we have good practical solutions??? then the leadership project will release a series of white papers for public consumption.

???Hopefully, those who are involved with policy development will take them seriously,??? Norton said.