As a River Valley resident since 2003, I have always admired our community for striving to support the common good. Here, actions match values. Whether it’s the community coming together at 4PeteSake, confronting racism when we find it, supporting the arts, or sustaining The River Valley School Fair, we strive to live our values. Most communities do not have the courage or conviction to make these same choices.
At the upcoming River Valley School District meeting, the River Valley School Board will be reviewing bids and possibly acting on the sale of the majority of the River Valley School Forest. It is understandable and admirable that a rural school district should look at every means at its disposal to ensure a quality education for its students. It should not do so at the expense of conservation as a value. As a value, Aldo Leopold defined conservation as “teaching students to live on a piece of land without spoiling it.” Unfortunately, selling a School Forest with the expressed hope that it be plotted for development or cleared for farming teaches them something else. It teaches them that conservation is a convenience, not a way of living with land. It teaches them that land can be battered for the right price. Above all, it teaches them that values can be sold. The School district may make money, but our students and community will be impoverished.
Does this mean development is incompatible with conservation? No, however it does mean that land management should be informed by values. For the River Valley School Forest, this might entail:
- Selling a portion within the School Forest for development: This would retain the balance of the 120 acres as a working, educational forest to showcase development and natural community management which are not mutually exclusive.
- Rewriting the School Forest Management Plan: Modeling sound land management can strive to make as much money as possible. It simply needs to be recognized as a goal and objective. The current plan does not do this. The most current inventory of the forest shows that harvesting could be designed to produce regular income on a 10-15 year basis.
- Pursuing conservation easements: If integrated into a sale, a conservation easement could retain use of the land for educational purposes, managed according to an approved management plan.
There are other options as well. In any event, compatible land uses need to be informed by conservation as a value and require both creativity and an eye to the future. Exploiting the School Forest for short-term gain does none of these.