Parks and Recreation Protecting Environmental Resources:
Our Role As Environmental Stewards

The VIP Strategic Plan has identified environmental stewardship as one of our profession’s core competencies. Our mission, divided into nine key areas, includes protection of environmental resources:

By acquiring and protecting valuable resources of open space, such as rivers, streams, greenways, view sheds, forests and other habitat areas, natural resources and habitat required for natural species survival of diverse species are preserved.

 Why is protecting environmental resources such an important part of our mission? In 1911, John Muir wrote “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.” The more we have learned about nature through science, philosophy, religion or the arts, the more we see the truth of these words. In the early 20th century we began to see the need to preserve unique landscapes. Visionaries such as Muir and Theodore Roosevelt set us on a path to acquire those special places in part for their intrinsic value and to protect our cultural heritage. Protection of the natural environment is the basis of the creation of our profession. Today we see, and better understand the need to protect, not just unique features, but whole ecosystems.

We can take pride in our progress in developing a national ethic and understanding of the importance of clean air, clean water and the wonderful array of species they support. We now know that man’s use of those resources has been incredibly destructive, wiping out whole species in our quest for development and progress. Today we know that we can’t save the California Condor, the Coho Salmon or the Mission Blue Butterfly without saving its habitat. And we are still learning how incredibly complicated that habitat is. We’ve learned from John Muir’s prophetic line that everything truly is connected, that there is a whole system of linkages between soil, plants, animals and man.

So why has protecting our natural resources been identified as part of our core competencies?

  1. Many park and recreation agencies manage some of the most important ecosystems in the State of California
  2. Environmental education is part of the programmatic mission of numerous park and recreation agencies.
  3. The public’s interest in environmental issues and protection of the environment is at an all time high, providing the opportunity for park and recreation agencies to link to a concerned constituency.
  4. Land stewardship and conservation provide an important way of building community and expanding volunteer programs in parks.
  5. Preservation of open space is an important “quality of life” indicator that impacts the economic development and property values of governments throughout the state.

So what are the implications for park and recreation agencies and what is our role in protecting the environment?

  1. First and foremost is to acquire and preserve our natural environment.
  2. Recognize that we need to shift to a science based management system to conserve our important natural areas.
  3. Invite the public to be active participants in stewardship programs.
  4. Facilitate learning about the environment, man’s impact on it and what we can do to preserve it.
  5. Model best practices in how we manage and operate our agencies as well as in our private lives, from recycling to energy conservation to green building codes.
  6. Educate policy makers and donors about the importance of conservation as well as the need of acquisition.

Finally, we should help people find those special places that allow them to recreate as well as bring them peace and re-creation. And that is at the core of our reason for being as a profession.

To quote Muir again: “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike.”