Save the River, Kill the Trees
In 1872, when America suffered a severe tree deficit, J. Sterling Morton founded Arbor Day to turn the tide. The future Secretary of Agriculture put us on track each month to plant millions of saplings. He set aside vast national forest reserves. His holiday extolls tree virtues – from fruit, shade and stable soils to fuel, windbreaks and building materials. But his arboreal ambitions have gone way too far. The thirstiest parts of our country are best described as “over-forested.” Vigorous protection has stocked semiarid regions with several billion trees too many. And each day these trees’ roots and branches continue to deplete a natural resource more precious than paper or plywood: water. America’s afforestation-driven freshwater deficit didn’t happen overnight. It is the unintended consequence of a deliberate federal policy that for a century has enjoyed bipartisan backing and widespread public support. Following nationally publicized and locally terrifying burns of 1910, the U.S. effectively declared war on an abstract noun: fire. Yet combing through their extensive research, our crosscutting analysis reveals downstream impacts too: suppression of fire causes suppression of flows. Indeed, in some landscapes, you literally can’t see the river for the trees…
Jamie Workman graduated cum laude in history from Yale and Oxford in 1990. As a prize-winning investigative journalist in Washington, D.C., Workman was recruited as special assistant to U.S. Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt, where Workman pioneered river restoration through national dam removals. Moving overseas as senior adviser to the World Commission on Dams under Nelson Mandela, Workman advised corporations, governments and international NGOs on natural resource policy, valuation, mitigation and adaptation. He has published dozens of articles and several books on how to unlock the true value of water, including the award-winning dramatic non-fiction narrative, Heart of Dryness: How the Last Bushmen Can Help Us Endure the Coming Age of Permanent Drought.
Sponsored by the O'Donnell Visiting Educator Series. This event is part of a series of lectures by Professor Workman called "Three Things Your Parents Didn't Tell You About Water Conservation."