Shortly after World War II, the British enacted the Natural Parks and Access to
the Countryside Act of 1947. The Act was the legal framework "to preserve
some of the outstanding 'jewels' of the British Countryside from intensive development,
and provide public access so the people could see what they had been fighting
for," according to Peter Doyle, a geologist who writes for us this month
on the legal framework in the United Kingdom for protecting geological treasures.
The 1947 Act, Doyle tells us, was part of the idea to make Britain a home "fit
for heroes." Could it have been their near-death experience of war that lifted
their vision to such heights?
Peter Doyle goes on to explain, in "The British Framework for Geoconservation"
starting on page 18, that the roots of the Act of 1947 are to be found in the
late 1800s, when the United Kingdom established a mechanism for selecting for
preservation Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). These sites were "to
be representative of the most special and scientifically important habitats and
'geological and physiographic features,'" he writes. Could it have been the
country's small physical size, coincident with being the cradle of the nascent
science of geology, which resulted in "geological and physiographic features"
being included for preservation for their intrinsic scientific worth?
The British story continues and the movement picks up steam with the enactment
of the Geological Conservation Review (GCR) in the 1970s. There are now more than
2,000 GCR sites in Britain, as well as hundreds of additional sites protected
since 1990 by nonlegislative Regionally Important Geological Sites status. These
latter sites are the work of local communities and organizations, not the British
government. The identification and protection of scientifically important geologic
sites in Great Britain is clearly well underway.
In the United States the situation is quite different, as described by Marjorie
Chan and colleagues in "Geology for the Record" starting on page 14.
The authors describe efforts to preserve the Stockton Bar, a unique stratigraphic
record of 28,000 years of Bonneville basin history in Utah. It now appears that
the Bar is safe from development but, as usual, it was a nip and tuck, come from
behind effort. The team is now investigating how to create science-based strategies
for making an inventory of possible geologic features at risk, and for evaluating
their scientific merits in the name of preservation. Their work, they write, is
the "first systematic attempt in the United States to apply geoconservation
methods of identification, evaluation and management." Their goal is "to
develop methods and applications for evaluating and managing Earth science sites,
and to suggest specific policy reform to help accommodate such efforts."
While we in the United States are trailing Great Britain in geoconservation policy,
our National Park System demonstrates our early commitment to protect places of
special beauty and interest. Each Park also has "geological and physiographic"
scientific importance, but many such sites outside our parks, monuments and other
federally and state-protected areas lack recognition or protection. We have yet
to build an inventory of such sites, though one could easily be developed, and
it certainly should be. Care must be taken to include for protection only those
sites that are truly exemplary, otherwise mediocrity will doom yet another good
Our Comment this month also brings our attention to a geologic feature at risk,
one threatened by a different danger. In "Iraq's Desert also Needs Healing,"
on page 5, Farouk El-Baz presents a compelling and timely argument for the military
to begin to undo the damage it wrought upon the desert surface. Drawing on experiences
from the Gulf War and desert research thereafter, El-Baz makes suggestions for
what the invading troops should do to minimize environmental damage resulting
from the invasion of Iraq. Geotimes will offer readers more on this topic in an
upcoming issue this fall.
Any great country might win a war, or preserve its cultural and natural antiquities,
or protect its environment or spawn a worldwide economy. A truly great culture
will achieve all of these.
Believe your compass, and let's talk.
Samuel S. Adams