By Rick LoBello, El Paso Group Executive Committee
The current wave of development in cities around the world threatens both businesses and quality of life.
Here in El Paso, when two men spotted a bulldozer blading a road across a pristine part of the Franklin Mountains in 1978, they inspired citizens across the community to take action to help stop the ravenous rampage of suburbia.
Today, a new conservation effort is underway as new bridges are built, roads are widened and more developments break ground. Many El Pasoans are saddened by what they see and feel hopeless in doing anything about it. Not so fast, says the Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition. A new citizens petition with more than 6,000 signatures calls upon the city to preserve undeveloped public lands on both sides of the mountains.
Earlier this year, National Geographic magazine characterized similar business and environmental challenges, asking this question: “Why do many reasonable people doubt science? We live in an age when all manner of scientific knowledge — from climate change to vaccinations — faces furious opposition. Some even have doubts about the moon landing.”
It is shocking to learn that most of the people responsible for mapping out our future have no clue as to the scientific value of protecting natural landscapes to local businesses and people.
Ecological services are free and include purification of the air we breathe and the water we drink, protecting wildlife biodiversity, soil and vegetation regeneration, seed dispersal, and pollination of crops and natural vegetation. These services also help to sustain aesthetically pleasing landscapes important to enhancing our wellbeing and fighting off nature-deficit disorder.
When ecological services are lost, taxpayers, businesses and governments incur significant costs to replace these services. Some services can only be partially replaced, and some can never be replaced by any amount of dollar investment.
Here in El Paso, one of the drivers of rising health-care costs is the quality of the air we breathe. Desert plants help to maintain our air quality by capturing dust particles during dust storms. When bulldozers destroy what nature has spent thousands of years creating, businesses incur rising costs when people get sick and can’t make it to work. People suffering from respiratory problems also experience a lower quality of life.
Another example is how the Franklin Mountains landscape is a significant driver for ecotourism and in encouraging people to live here and move here. The value of that driver may be very comparable if not higher than the ecotourism potential of the newly established Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument a few miles north in New Mexico. The protected mountain range is now estimated to contribute more than $7.4 million in additional annual economic activity in Las Cruces.
Every day that development in El Paso continues at its current rate, the potential of ecotourism as an economic driver decreases.
Perhaps the current movement to protect natural resources in El Paso will trigger a new way of thinking about our future. Let’s hope that local businesses and the community will demand change. For more information on how you can help, visit franklinmountains.org.