Chapter 3. A Regional Strategy
The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we had when we created them. [Albert Einstein]
So what should we do? If the places and issues highlighted in the last chapter are the keys to conserving our natural heritage, how should we respond? Human institutions are complex—perhaps not as complex as ecosystems, but complex enough to daunt serious efforts at reform. I would argue, however, that just as it is possible to identify decisive issues out of the vast complexity of regional ecosystems, it is possible to do so with the human institutions that affect them.
This chapter focuses on specific changes to laws and programs to realize the vision for conservation discussed in the last chapter. The next chapter addresses necessary changes in funding, governance, and political support. In most cases, my recommendations have real world examples where a version of them is being implemented. Not all examples are as ambitious as they need to be, and no place in the world is yet implementing all of them, but there is no reason we could not be the first. We have led the way before. In fact, two of the most ambitious examples I cite are from our area: the Shared Strategy for Puget Sound Salmon and the Cascade Agenda. Still, while I admire both of these initiatives and hope my proposal can build on their good work, I conclude this chapter with a discussion of their limitations and those of past efforts to protect Puget Sound.
The most essential component of our conservation strategy must be an ambitious program to protect and restore the ecologically most important places in our region. These places would generally become reserves—not the entire floodplain of the Skagit River, for example, but the parts of it most important to protect and restore. Many of these sites have already been identified through watershed plans or the various studies discussed in Chapter 2. Final selection would depend on willing landowners, further discussion with affected communities, and scientific criteria developed to guide the overall conservation strategy. Not all properties must be purchased outright, but at a minimum conservation easements would be needed from current owners. These easements would restrict the economic uses allowed on the land and would provide long-term protection for restoration taken on by the public.