About IEH

Land, People, and Nature — New Solutions for a New Century

Mission and Philosophy
Land Ethic for the 21st Century
IEH activities

Mission and Philosophy

The Institute for Ecological Health facilitates harmony between human communities and their natural ecosystems. We link the conservation of rural landscapes and a viable agricultural economy to the conservation and enhancement of wildlife habitat, native biodiversity and ecological functions. We search for ways to promote smart and sustainable urban growth that provide a high quality of life for people while curbing metropolitan sprawl into rural lands and scarce wildlife habitat. Our solutions provide for both people and nature and ensure sustainability.

IEH members include conservationists, farmers, business people, planners, scientists and civic leaders. We have a strong commitment to collaborating with leaders from many interests to facilitate a common understanding of the root causes of current land use problems and to support the emergence of broadly shared solutions. Regional approaches are an important component of the IEH program.

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A Land Ethic for the 21st Century

A new ethic is essential to avoid widespread degradation of human and ecological communities and the disappearance of agricultural economies during the 21st Century. There are several key components, all based on the ethical treatment of people, land and nature and on the vision of a sustainable society and sustainable rural landscapes.

Recognize the important non-commodity values of land.

Both rural and metropolitan lands have a range of non-commodity values. In the countryside, the farming and ranching way of life, long-term health of the soil, wildlife habitat, maintenance of water quality in streams and rivers are just a few of the important non-commodity values. City dwellers value high quality neighborhoods, open space areas and the scenic vistas of nearby countryside.
Current attitudes treat land as a commodity with the highest and best use being urban/suburban development. Local government plans often treat farm and range lands and their wildlife habitat as areas for potential future development. Family farming and ranching becomes harder and harder to maintain. The agricultural and habitat uses of land are not seen as valuable or important.

Focus on providing a high quality of life for all metropolitan residents in ways that curb sprawl.

In order to halt metropolitan sprawl, we need to focus on infill of existing developed areas, especially declining commercial tracts. We need high quality, mixed used developments that have a range of housing opportunities and provide for vibrant neighborhoods. The development of urban villages around transit stops and suburban villages with mixed-use centers at the metropolitan fringe will provide people friendly, walkable communities. Developed areas should also have adequate open space, including nearby nature benefits such as natural stream corridors. These new land use patterns will allow for drastic reduction in conversion of agricultural lands and wildlife habitat, while maintaining the focus on single family homes.

Protect family farms and ranches and their economic viability.

Conservation of both farm and ranch land is important to ensure domestic food production, protect wildlife habitat, maintain open space vistas and community separators and safeguard a treasured rural lifestyle. The conservation of agricultural land requires more than protection from development. It also requires maintaining or restoring the economic viability of the agricultural industry - both the farms and ranches and the essential support industry. Development sprawling into agricultural areas erodes the economic viability of the support industry and creates increasing “zones of conflict” for remaining farms and ranches. Low prices for many agricultural commodities challenges society to find ways to maintain economic viability.

Conserve and restore wildlife habitat and the full array of native species.

Conservation of wildlife habitat requires the overall rural landscape and all its native species to avoid further declines in ecological health. In California, private rangelands are of immense importance for maintaining a variety of natural habitats and native species that do not occur on the public lands of the mountains and deserts. Field crop landscapes also provide habitat for a variety of native species. We have lost the vast majority of several habitat types and an ever-growing number of species are threatened with extinction. This requires active restoration efforts, especially of riparian areas and some other now rare habitats.

Encourage rural land management that replenishes soil, safeguards water quality, and protects essential ecosystem processes.

How we manage our rural lands, at scales ranging from individual land ownerships to whole regions, is a vital issue for the 21st Century. Sustainable agricultural practices nourish the soil, building up organic matter and populations of soil organisms. A key emerging issue is the protection and improvement of water quality, through control of nonpoint source pollution. Ecological processes play a key role in maintaining natural and agricultural landscapes and ensuring viability of native species.

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IEH Activities

Publishing the Periodical Linkages

Our periodical Linkages explores the various issues of this Land Ethic. Details and down-loadable back issues at the Periodical page. Also you can receive a hard copy as soon as each issue is published.

Conservation Planning

IEH is heavily involved in the development of Habitat Conservation Plans and Natural Community Conservation Plans in northern California. We focus on promoting the development of conservation plans that are based on sound science and which aid recovery of listed species as well as reversing the declines of at-risk species and ensuring the long term protection of ecologically viable landscapes. We also have a strong interest in ways that can mesh the necessary conservation with the needs of agriculture and the agricultural economy. We work closely with concerned citizens and local governments. Our activities on individual plans range from leadership in plan development to monitoring progress and commenting on material. We assist a multi-county local government collaborative in addressing funding, policy and outreach issues.

The ultimate success of Habitat Conservation Plans and Natural Community Conservation Plans will depend on their implementation in the decades ahead. IEH plans a long-term project to monitor and comment on Plan implementation in northern California, to ensure that their goals and objectives are met and effective conservation achieved.

Coming soon:

  • A Guide to Regional Conservation Planning in California.
  • Fall 2004 Conservation Planning workshop for the Bay Area and Sacramento regions.

Smart Growth, Liveable Communities, Curbing of Urban SprawlConservation of Rural Communities and of Agriculture

IEH carries out a variety of activities. A wide variety of Linkages articles, and now the columns Planning for Quality of Life and Sustaining Agriculture, provide consistent education and information. We linked ecological planning to urban village design as coauthors of a report prepared with Community Design and Planning Services at UC Davis We have organized Livable Community workshops in various California locations. IEH is an active participant in the Farm Bill Summit coalition, with our focus being on getting more federal Farm Bill dollars to California for the Natural Resources Conservation Service and its programs. IEH is a founding affiliate of the California Futures Network. We provide a broad based rural-urban voice in state level policy discussions, write op-ed articles and provide information to individual reporters.

Regional Projects

These further our belief in the importance of a regional perspective and in integrating different issues.

Lately we have focused on the multi-county Sacramento area. Activities include production of maps showing potential development and determination of areas permanently protected as wildlife habitat, open space and agricultural land. We provided leadership in lengthy discussions on open space conservation between an array of stakeholders and prepared a report on Biological Resources and Conservation Needs in the Sacramento Region. We are crafting a regional stream corridor conservation project.

In addition, we participate in a coalition effort focused on conservation of the five-bioregion ecotone centered on the Tehachapi Mountains and the I-5 Grapevine area.

Floodplain Management

IEH has had a strong interest in floodplain management since the 1997 floods in California. We were a very active participant in the broad-based 2002 California Floodplain Management Task Force and worked hard to craft and build support for recommendations that promote multi-objective management, conservation of both agriculture and wildlife habitat, and rethinking flood protection methods. We continue to seek major, though incremental, reform of floodplain management. A primary goal is to keep still-rural floodplain areas in their rural state, conserving habitat and agriculture rather than putting still more developed acres at risk through needless metropolitan sprawl. We promote judicious use of levee setbacks and riparian-wetland restoration to improve flood protection and restore some of the huge losses in these critical wildlife habitats.

Institute for Ecological Health, 409 Jardin Place, Davis CA 95616

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