Colony Farm Orchard: Can The Land Abide?

I sent a slightly different version of this essay to Western Michigan University’s student newspaper, the Western Herald on 17 January 2010 [Published 20 January with title Reps. Jones, George could have protected Colony Farm Orchard.]

004The Herald correctly reported on 10 January 2010 (online, 11 January print) that Governor Granholm signed HB 5207 recently.  The bill removed the restriction that the Colony Farm Orchard should be used for open space, public park, or recreation or, by legislative action, could be used for some other public purpose.  The effect of HB 5207 was to kill that covenant, potentially allowing WMU to use the land for anything, without asking anybody.

The Herald story listed a few of the many people who share the blame for stripping the conservation covenant.  Listing all would make a long story–and a long letter–but Kalamazoo’s two elected legislators should be given special recognition, because either could have stopped the process.  Representative Bob Jones (D-Kalamazoo) could have said no when WMU handed him the bill.  He could have said yes when conservationists asked him to withdraw it from consideration.  He did neither.

Senator Tom George (R-Kalamazoo) could have killed the bill at any time during the months it sat in the Senate.  A word from him would have been a death sentence because of the convention in the legislature of deferring to the position taken by the Senator from the affected district (professional courtesy–so to speak).  But Tom George did not say the word.  In fact, his position as given by the Herald is that as times change, so should laws and deeds.

This catches precisely the difference between the exploiter mentality and that of the conservationist–the difference between the polluters, clear-cutters, and  mountaintop blasters, on the one hand, and Teddy Roosevelt and Aldo Leopold on the other. It is the mentality that would make permanent protection of any conservation land impossible.  The times have changed, says the exploiter; we’ll change the laws, we’ll change the deeds. This natural land is now expendable.

It’s a mentality to reject.  Though the restriction on the Colony Farm Orchard is gone, the land is the same, still providing essential ecosystem services to Asylum Lake Preserve and to all of us, and still deserving permanent preservation.  The only difference is that now the protection will have to come, not from a legal constraint, but from the knowledge, good judgment, and conscience of the WMU board and administration.

WMU Students, Faculty, and Alumni, Fellow Citizens, let us follow the board’s and administration’s actions closely.

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