Joe Whitworth of The Freshwater Trust spoke at one of the first Farwest Trade Show seminars on Thursday morning. His talk addressed the next iteration of conservation. “It will be the integration of the environment and economy,” Whitworth said.
Whitworth was was born in 1969, about six months before the Cuyahoga River caught on fire. That event became a watermark, as it were, in his life, which he has devoted to environmental pursuits.
“Rivers are not supposed to burn,” he said. That environmental event became the spark for legislation such as the Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act, thus beginning the modern environmental movement era.
“We became the great green wall of no,” said Whitworth. “But bad things don’t happen the way they used to.”
Whitworth divided the environmental movement into three eras:
– 1st era: Eden is lost, demonizing activist doesn’t work that we’ll anymore because the bad guys are hard to tell. The bad guys are us because we consume.
– 2nd era: Scientific era. Why? How did it happen? Late ’70s thru middle 90s.
– 3rd era: Let’s fix it.
Whitworth has identified 16 ways to fix a river. “There is a least common denominator, a formula, a series of repetitive steps,” he said.
He has designed software for the use in restoration projects. “Utilizing technology speeds things up. But now what we need is scale.”
Whitworth has strived to quantify environmental uplift and markets. “Enviros don’t understand money, and vice versa,” he said. “Commerce and stewardship are forever tied together. The only long term plan is for them to integrate functionally.”
He used the example of water as the Earth’s kidneys. “Wetlands filter out pollutants and cool the environment. That thermal benefit equates to credits. Using environmental accounting principles, we can quantify the benefit to the economy.”
For instance, by Whitworth’s calculations, for every million dollars of conservation dollars, 20 jobs are created. Establishing these sorts of currencies such that they are “naturalized and reproducible” is Whitworth’s goal.
He’s working with the DEQs in Oregon and Idaho, as well as the EPA. He said the nursery industry’s support is crucial. “We want to have durability, not dollars, in our eyes.”
The Freshwater Trust is currently working on their first five contracts for wetland and river restoration project in Oregon. Thus far the trust has contracted for 30,000 trees and shrubs, with 300,000-400,000 still to plant in Medford, and 20,000-40,000 in the Willamette Valley, including various native species of conifers, hardwoods, riparian trees and shrubs.
“Over-planting has rendered the best results so far,” Whitworth said. “We’re looking for the best-suited plant types for a given basin.”
The challenge is finding sources for large amounts of native nursery stock. “Projects with a five-year window, that’s doable. That’s something nurseries can plan and prepare for,” Whitworth said.