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Prepared Comments

of Robert H. Giles, Jr.
Division of Forestry and Wildlife Resources
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Blacksburg, Virginia 24061

before a panel:

Virginia's Land: Going ... Going

of the conference

Virginia's Land. Exploitation or Conservation?

October 5, 1973

Sponsored by the Conservation Council of Virginia
with Assistance from the Central Atlantic Environmental Center
John Marshall Hotel, Richmond, Virginia

It is no more pleasure for me to be here than it would be for me to attend the funeral of my best friend. Loving my land, I feel as though I preside over its last rites, tearful, afraid, and impoverished. But, hopefully these are not the funeral rites, but only visitations by family and friends at the death bed.

There may be a chance, however slim, that some new discovery, some new master mechanic, will emerge in time to save our dearest Mother Earth. From what must she be saved? Linear cities, cracker-box subdivisions, emerging slums, obtrusive condoniniums, dammed rivers, despoiled shores, crowding of people, eroding mountains, filling lakes, stripped scenery, webbing powierlines over horizons, crisscrossing highways, reduced game populations, desecrated scenic rivers, up-wind industries, endangered wildlife, upstream polluters, houses in cornfields, ripped-out orchards, mismanaged forests, duplicated public facilities, flooded shopping centers,dying woodlands, intruding saltwater, washed-away beach houses, insufficient recreational areas, wrecked historic sites,. screaming airports, radiating, power sites, warming rivers, filled wetlands, and channelized streams. She is in very, very grave shape for the above are interactive with consequences far greater than their simple sum.

My visit will be short. That is what the doctor says. Ten minutes, and in that time I must articulate the major problems of land use. This conference itself is symptomatic of the mallaise that grips our society. Toffler calls it future shock. Instant coffee, instant breakfast, hop-in lunches, TV dinners, instant marriage, quick divorces, or atomic holocaust all move us toward a new religion, a new faith in science, and the dependence as today upon instant problem analysis and, above all, instant solutions. Our paradox, (and that is problem number one), is that we must spend more, more, thoughtful time on certain problens, when those very problems are the ones crying for imnediate answers. Mking the proper tradeoffs between quantity of answers and quality of such answers is the essence of the first problem.

The second problem is one of being able to see the whole problem and to be able to organize it meaningfully for solution. A systems approach is the only conceivable good approach. The next best is muddling through.

The third problem is internalizing the fact that governments have the right and responsibility to control private land and its use. Jeffersonian philosophy has not withstood the tests of time; we have not remained agricultural nor has the land remained unlimited. The precedents for control are numerous agricultural controls, public health controls, and zoning. The first two started at least in 1693, zoning in l926. The issue in a democracy is: are the best interests, health and welfare of all the people served by a laissez faire land use policy, that the private owner really knows best and acts accordingly? The evidence is overwhelming: The private good is not the public good. When most people seem bent upon getting their share of a limited supply, the end results are neither pleasant nor healthy.

The fourth problem is one of identifying who are the proper decision makers. The greatest problem of designing any system is one of specifying the user. Clear lines of authority and responsibility must be created for enforcing land use, pollution control, and site development laws. Present unintegrated approaches will not suffice, partially because the risks that are associated with such problems make it seem very desirable for "someone else" to take the responsibility for a decision. Who that someone else is to be has yet to be agreed upon. It had better be soon.

The fifth major problem is developing and providing the technical and professional personnel to serve as staff members for such decision makers. The problem is most critical for the small community faced with rapid growth. New intensified educational programs, new funds, and a taskforce approach seem possible solutions.

The sixth major problem is the ambiguous national context within which Virginia must do its land use planning and decision making. Personnel, agency(s), policy statements, governor involvement, or civil suite are needed to shape the environment of Virginia's legislation.

The seventh problem is one of seeing the land use problem as largely interpretable as an economic problem in the broad sense, it being a search for that mix of uses which provides an optimum allocation of land. The thresholds or limits (constraints) must be specified as well as the objectives. The parallels that exist with a systems approach are unmistakable. The corollary problem is that of convincing people that ecological probletns are economic problems. Nature is a bitch. Man may have her, but he must pay for his pleasure. Listen to my three ecological-economic stories.

  1. Small lots increase the proportions of the land covered by roofs, walks and the like. This increases runoff, increases stream bank erosion, reduces rich agricultural acreages, increases peak flows ... as well as mud. flats, increases dredging costs in navigable rivers, modifies the estuary, increases fish costs, and increases the cost of mosquito control. All this ecological-economic mess occurred because of a lot-size regulation in some mountain community.
  2. New pine forests were planted in a coastal community; wildlife of hardwood forests decreased and so did the well-being of business men who catered to hunters; a wood mill expanded to use the wood; more people came and enhanced the local gross product of the community; they, along with the factory,used more water. The water in artesian wells decreased at a rate faster than natural water could replenish it. Salt water invaded these aouifers, creeping under the coast. Wells became salty and trees in coastal areas died or lost growth. People without water moved; those that were left experienced pesticides in their water as a consequence of aerial applications to protect the pine monoculture. All this ecological-economic mess occurred and is occurring now in Virginia because of a desire for profit from pines.
  3. A stroke of the pen reduced the amount of land in conservation practices, erosion increased, fertilizer leaching increased, wildlife populations decreased, energy required for cultivation increased, lake entrophication increased, water pollution control costs increased, fishing recreation and associated benefits decreased, and dams filled, reducing their calculated useful life. All because of a stroke of a pen.

I am now convinced that land use problens can be solved on strictly economic grounds, and that virtually every land characteristic can be valued by some means, if not explicit, at least acceptably pragmatic.

The problem is to see and understand the ecological costs. Every cost reduces people's opportunities, their freedom. The problem is thus: Do not tamper with my freedom; hold back on how you handle my humanity!

The eighth problem is one of poorly conceived objectives. Of course, this is the primary problem but since so few seem to recognize it as such, I decided to delay its presentation, but not until last. We grope with the land use question because we do not really know what it is we're trying to do. We have not yet been specific about what our legislation and other tactics should really do. We do not know, yet, how we could tell if we're were winning. If you don't know where your're going, any road will take you there. I propose the objectives of land-use strategies to be the following complex set: 1. To maximize the private benefits experienced by o~mers of land, subject to a. minimizing off-site impacts from land use (e.g. erosion, air pollution, noise, radiation, and storm sewage) b. achieving high ecological diversity 5 c. minirnizinS taxes required to achieve a quality of life stable or increasing at the 1973 level. d. minimizing the travel time of trips between and the resources co-consumed in providing utilities between existin~, and new locations e maximizing the ease with which high c'uality water can be provided for users, byproducts recycled, and wastes disposed f. minimizing space heating costs and energy consumption by by site selection and structural desI?n g. maxi~izing opportunities for subseauent different use of a tract of land h. stabilizing sufficient, high-quality food and fiber producing acreage I. stabilizing the quality and quantity of ground water supplies j.. stabilizing the coastal ~ietlands of the state k. minimizin~ need for addin~ fertilizers~ particularly those from limited supplies 1. stabilizing water level and velocity9 and rLducin~ peak flows of major river~ r~. stabilizing soil particle erosion at a level below an agreed-upon maximum turbidity level at the mouths of major streams and rivers n. sta1~ilizing the capacity of an air shed to dillute emission to the air fro~ land users livin~ and wor~~ing in the watershed 0. nini-:~izing insurance claims for flood plain, ~eological problems, or soil slippage or soil related structural failure p. minimizing soil texture, vegetation, and drainage restoration 2. To provide on certain lands opportunities for the public to experience a variety of benefits including: 6 a. diverse recreational opportunities b. peculiar scenic and historic sites and acres c. potential resources for which there is not a~ present sufficient der'~.and d. minimura areas requisite for national security The ninth problem Is time preference and the 9reat difference that exists between private land owners and the public. Society can pl'ce a r'uch greater value on future uses of resources t~an can an individual. Few of us value a promissory note v.~ich can only be called l~C years from now. But, cor~unities may well hi~hly value such a note. Lower rates of resource returns are ~ore acceptable to the public than to individuals. There is less need for getting while the getting is good; In fact, for most land use, the longer the resource lasts, the ~reater will be the total yield as well as the annual yield. The tenth problem is forcing land to its hi~hest and best use. ~ can no longer indulge the luxury of mere personal desire as the prime criterion of land use, the extravagance of indiscrininate- or under~utilization. Both were permissable t~en land was plentiful. After sophisticated analyses are made taxation, regulation, licensin~~ and zoning provide so;~ of the r~ans to assure that land may be used optimally. Now let me point to special probler.i~ th~t ~ust be addressed by those who are developinL~ land-use le~Islation. The criteria for Virginia land-use legislation to be judged ~ood are (1) it must surpass ~init~m national standards and provide leadership pressure to such national legislation~ (2) it must aJdress th~ question of decision mal~rs, their responsibilities and liabilities, (3) it must provide criteria and standards for re~ional and state ecological stability, (4) it must provide ~e&nanism.s for citizen value inputs, (5) it must accommodate appropriate past land use and rapidly ret~ve incompatible or suboptimum land use, (6) it must ~~nitor and/or estir~te con- 7 sequent ecological changes and interactions throu~out the land system9 (7) it must estimate tIe future dynamics of demand, (q) it -~'ist provide for enforcement, (~) it must provi(~e for citizen.~aT.yareness, communication of consequences, and education, and (10) it must provide for research. TiJhile some would claim these ideas are those of a socialist, this is not so. I am aware of the studies in ?ussia by the A~i~rican, Godman. lIe said ... the USSR finds itself abusing the environment in the same way, and to the same degree, that we ab~se it ~bolisI'Ing private property will not necessarily mean an end to environne~tal disruption. i~y plea ib for ration~l manager~nt of our total state as a system. It is possible. ~Je can have m~-ximum private involvement, thou~~ of a type not yet experienced. The task will not be easy. TTe must c~r~it more time and resources to the problem. It is one of the most critical faced by Vir~inians but face it we must. Soon: Or, ~ie can turn it all over to our children (not our ~rand children, mind you) ... ~T.hom we love. Try to ii~gine the difficulty of convincing them of suc~ love after they perceive the fullness of our neglect.


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