Every so often, my various alma matres send me their alumni/ae surveys, invariably asking for my occupation along with my charitable contribution. Now, not only am I gainfully employed, but I have what I regard as a marvelous career as a professional conservationist. Yet try as I might, I never find that box among my choices on the survey checklist and have to settle for the nonprofit catch-all or the highly marginal other category.
Why is that? We may not occupy as large a sector of the workforce as, say, the entertainment industry, or those engaged in domestic spying, but there are more than 1,250 land trusts in this country and some considerable proportion of them have paid staff. The largest conservation organizations in the nation -and I've worked for two of them- have hundreds and in some cases thousands of employees on their payrolls. Conservation is a legitimate career but it still doesn't make the cut at survey time.
Sometimes there's a box for Environmental Management. When I started out in land stewardship, I looked hopefully at this category. I hoped to find a place with fellow prescribed fire practitioners, wielders of weed wrenches, and grassland restoration experts. It seems instead that this group was comprised largely of extractive rather than restorative enterprises, along with assorted sanitation engineers, brown-fields developers and the like.
The problem may be not the need for a narrower Conservation category, but for a broader base for conservation. It has to become a mainstream value, friends, or it will remain a marginal priority. A lot of folks consider themselves conservationists who reject the label of environmentalist, or "environmeddlists" as the logger muttering into his beer next to me in a bar in Forks, Washington described us back in 1989.
Remember that the root of "conserve" and "conservative" is the same. I don't care what your political persuasion, we all have strong feelings about our land, the place we live, and the powerful changes that are happening to the landscape and in our communities. We can respond in fear, in isolation, in denial or in hope, but respond we must because the land as we know it won't endure unless we decide it's worth making sacrifices for. We may differ as to the means, and these differences can be used as wedges to divide us, but even private property rights advocates don't want the actions of their neighbors to impact their land and degrade their quality of life.
So I'll check off the other box and write-in conservationist. There are more of us out there, across the professions, than any single label can describe.